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MGH doctors to pay $4.5m over death

It began as a day spent engaged in spring cleaning.

It ended the next morning in the death of a Plymouth woman.

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And now, two top doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital have agreed to pay the woman’s family $4.5 million because, a medical malpractice lawyer said, the physicians failed to take measures that might have prevented the death.

Geraldine Moran, 62, was cleaning her home on March 23, 2005, when she fell off a 6-foot-tall ladder and broke several ribs, according to the attorney for her estate, Benjamin Novotny of the Boston law firm Lubin & Meyer.

Moran was taken to Jordan Hospital, now known as Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, where she received a high-tech medical scan of her pelvis and chest. Doctors found one of her ribs had cracked in such a way that its sharp tip was close to her aorta, Novotny said.

Doctors suggested Moran be transported to Mass. General, where surgeons would be better equipped to help her, Novotny said.

“It’s basically like you have a knife next to a balloon,” Novotny said in a telephone interview.

“But that balloon is your aorta, which is the largest artery in your body. It’s dangerous.”

Novotny said Dr. Alasdair Conn and Dr. George Velmahos evaluated Moran at Mass. General but failed to order chest imaging or to assemble a trauma team to perform a reduction of the displaced rib.

The doctors monitored her overnight, but planned to wait until the morning to perform a chest X-ray, Novotny said.

Moran was given an epidural for pain relief. It was noted that she had a bad cough, Novotny said.

Velmahos declined to comment on the case. Conn, formerly the longtime chief of emergency medicine at Mass. General, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. “It is disheartening when physicians who take on some of the most difficult cases and are committed to doing what they can to save lives are faced with malpractice litigation,” Michael Morrison, the hospital’s media relations manager, said in a statement.

After two weeks in trial, the doctors settled this month, Novotny said.

Both doctors still work at the hospital, Morrison said.

The morning after she fell, Moran coughed while in her hospital bed, which caused the rib to go into her aorta, Novotny said. She went into cardiac arrest about 9:30 a.m. Velmahos and his surgical team clamped Moran’s aorta, but she did not respond to the treatment, Novotny said.

At 9:49 a.m., Moran was pronounced dead. An autopsy found a 1-centimeter hole in Moran’s aorta, near the tip of the fractured rib.

“Her three children lost their mother for something that could have been avoided,” Novotny said.

Morrison said the hospital supports the doctors and believes they acted appropriately.

“Now that this matter is behind us, these doctors can get back to doing what they do best — caring for patients,” he wrote in the statement.

While the settlement is significant, there have been larger verdicts in medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts, including a 2005 case in which a jury awarded nearly $40 million to the family of a Dracut boy born with severe brain damage after a traumatic delivery.

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera
@globe.com
. Follow her on twitter @jacktemp.
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