When Anesthesia Mistakes Result in Brain Damage

By Greg Kohn

Having surgery is scary enough without having to worry about getting brain damage from anesthesia errors. When mistakes with anesthesia happen, the brain can sustain permanent injury from a lack of oxygen and other nutrients. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygenated blood to perform its functions. Without enough oxygen, cells in the brain can start dying off within a few minutes. 

Taking on a doctor or hospital can be a daunting task since the medical profession has teams of defense lawyers to protect it from injury claims. A New Jersey medical malpractice attorney can help you go after compensation if you or a loved one suffered brain damage from an anesthesia error.

Types of Anesthesia Mistakes

There is little margin for error with anesthesia. The patient receives drugs that render him unconscious so that he is asleep during an invasive procedure like surgery. Altering a person’s state of consciousness is a risky undertaking. Medical mistakes kill about 250,000 people a year in America, which makes healthcare errors the third leading cause of death here, surpassed only by heart disease and cancer. 

Some of the most frequent types of mistakes involving anesthesia include:

  • Too much or too little anesthesia. Without enough of the drugs, the patient can wake up and feel pain during the procedure, yet be unable to communicate the problem. Too much of the drugs can cause the patient to stop breathing or lead to a heart attack or stroke, any of which can interrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain. 
  • Failing to administer a steady flow of oxygen in the correct concentration for the patient to breathe while he is under anesthesia.
  • Lack of sufficient monitoring of the patient during anesthesia, which can lead to a delay in the discovery of a problem until after permanent brain damage occurs.
  • Administering anesthesia to a patient who has an allergy to a component of the anesthesia or that interacts with other drugs. 
  • Failing to inform the patient about vital instructions about things like not eating or drinking for a particular number of hours before the procedure.

These are but a few examples of the many ways that things can go wrong with anesthesia, leaving the patient with brain injury.

Causes of Errors in Anesthesia

The delivery of anesthesia correctly involves many moving parts, from the drug manufacturer to the pharmacy that prepares the vials to the anesthesiologist administering the dosage, to the equipment used in the surgical suite. A breakdown at only one point can lead to dire consequences.

  • Dosing errors can happen when the anesthesiologist is in a hurry, inattentive, or careless. The hospital or surgery center pharmacy can put the wrong chemicals into the vials that are intended for and dispensed as anesthesia drugs. The pharmacy can mislabel the dosage, for example, put 900 milligrams into vials marked as containing 50 mg. The anesthesiologist might make errors because of inexperience.
  • Malfunctioning equipment can cause the patient to receive too much of the anesthesia drugs or too little oxygen. 
  • Understaffing can leave patients unattended for unacceptable amounts of time.
  • A lack of safety protocols or failure to follow existing protocols can increase the risk of mistakes.

The study that revealed the high rate of deaths from medical errors blamed systemic problems, like a lack of safety nets and protocols, for many of the mistakes.

Schedule a consult with one of our New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys to discuss your legal options.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.