Georgia

St. Francis to pay $26M in medical malpractice suit

WRBL Staff - COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Bittersweet moments for a Columbus woman who went to St. Francis Hospital for a common neck surgery and later turned into a disabled woman.

Sandra Williams filed a lawsuit against St. Francis Hospital for the end result of her neck surgery. After a two week trial, a jury decided, St. Francis and its surgeons were 100 percent at fault. St. Francis is now responsible for paying Williams $26 million dollars in this medical malpractice case.

"Sandy is now blind, she's restricted to wheelchair, she's got very little function in her legs, she has a hard time grasping with her hands," says Attorney Lloyd Bell, Law Offices of Andrew C. Dodgen.

Attorneys with the Law Offices of Andrew C. Dodgen represented 57-year-old Sandra Williams, a god-fearing woman of Columbus. Attorney Lloyd Bell says Williams needed a common neck surgery after running a 5k back in October of 2012.

"Went to get a neck fusion surgery which went well..but the following day she couldn't swallow," says Bell.

The day after her surgery she went to complain about trouble swallowing. Following that surgery what looks looks a pretty large bubble sitting on her windpipe. Attorneys for Williams say this is what caused their client to have trouble swallowing. They say St. Francis Doctor Erik Westerlund decided to not make a move on Williams, because she had not complained about any breathing problems. So she went home, but the swallowing issue never went away and even more problems surfaced.

"Came back to the emergency room in the early morning of October 20th and her neck was swollen, she couldn't swallow, she had pain, she had gurgling noise when she tried to swallow...she couldn't swallow her own saliva," says Bell.

She waited for some six hours to be seen by Dr. Westerlund, this on the third day after her surgery. But it's important to note, hospital policy requires doctors to see a patient within two hours. During the trial, the plaintiffs used a doctor with more than 20 years of surgical experience. He explains what Westerlund should've done in Williams' case.

"Intervene soon not wait til the breathing gets in trouble... there's almost a 100 percent chance that the patient will go home and be fine," says Doctor Lawrence Schlachter.

The plaintiff's attorney's tell News 3, Williams now needs around the clock care as she is no longer independent. They say all the years of singing at her church and enjoying a run all came to an end because of this incident. It's safe to say Williams hasn't had it easy also losing her husband through all of this. But through it all we're told Williams continues to smile and hold her head high.

According to our media partner the Ledger-Enquirer, St. Francis will not appeal the jury's decision, forcing the hospital to pay Williams $26 million dollars.


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