A Jacksonville law firm filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Naval Hospital Jacksonville, claiming the facility covered up a medical mistake by leaving three centimeters of a broken needle inside the spine of a mother delivering a baby there 15 years ago.
Attorney Sean Cronin of Cronin & Maxwell filed the suit in U.S. District Court of Florida on Tuesday morning. The needle, which the mother just learned about last year, is still lodged in her spine.
Amy Bright had a cesarean section scheduled at the hospital on Sept, 5, 2003, for the delivery of her third child, a boy.
During the procedure, the hospital opted for spinal anesthesia to block the pain rather than general anesthesia, which would have knocked her out.
The few-minute procedure turned into a roughly 40-minute ordeal when between one-third to one-half of the needle broke and became lodged in Bright's spine, Cronin said. Bright was never told about the mistake and the hospital covered it up, the suit claims.
Medical records make no mention of the needle breaking off and remaining embedded in the woman's spine, but it does say that the anesthesia did not take.
Cronin said that spinal needles are about 7 to 9 centimeters in length and that what is lodged in her spine is 3 centimeters, or about 1 inch. He said anyone performing anesthesia could clearly tell that a large portion of the needle was missing.
"They knew what they did," Cronin said. "They thought they would get in trouble so they elected not to tell the family and not to tell anyone in the chain of command because they did not want to get in trouble."
As a result, Cronin said, Bright suffered years of leg and back problems.
Bright underwent a CAT scan last year to further address her leg and back problems. That is when the more than an inch-long needle was discovered in her L4 vertebra. Cronin said his client has since then consulted with multiple neurosurgeons about having the needle removed but has been told the risk for even more permanent damage -- such as paralysis -- is too high. He said the window to remove the needle was in the days after the delivery of her child in 2003.
The 42-year-old mother of six has trouble sitting or exercising because the needle inflames the nerves when she moves. The pain has worsened over time, Cronin said.
"It is a cowardly, unethical cover-up," he said.
Cronin, a Navy veteran, has sued Naval Hospital Jacksonville on many occasions over the past 20 years. "This is the most outrageous case of medical malpractice I've ever seen. There was a golden window of opportunity to surgically remove the needle. By failing to tell Mrs. Bright about it or record it in her medical records, the medical staff sentenced her to a lifetime of pain. Surgery now is too risky because it could destabilize her spine, worsen the nerve damage or paralyze her."
Bright's husband, Charles Bright, had been stationed at Naval Hospital Jacksonville as a corpsman. He has since retired as a chief with 100 percent disability. The couple now live in Illinois.
"From our perspective, this is a double failure," said Cronin, who has a son who was born at the Naval Hospital. "... And frankly this is shocking and outrageous, and we expect better of our Navy brothers and sisters working at this hospital. This should never have happened and there is absolutely no excuse for this."
The lawsuit claims the medical staff improperly inserted the anesthesia needle into Bright's spine. It was supposed to enter her spinal canal where the medication is administered. Instead, the needle was forcefully pushed too far through the spinal canal and became deeply embedded into Bright's lower back, where it broke off and has since been trapped.
Cronin claims that needles of that type have a black ring around the top that is used to verify that the entire needle is intact after the needle is pulled out of the body.
"We're deeply committed to providing the best care to every patient entrusted to us," the hospital said in a statement issued late Tuesday. "Due to patient confidentiality and privacy laws, we're prohibited from providing any additional comments."
This article was written by Eileen Kelley from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.