A medical malpractice trial is underway in the San Benito Superior Court where a Hollister resident has alleged negligence on behalf of the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital and a Salinas-based doctor resulting in her Quadriplegia.
Dorothy Castillo, 68, is suing Salinas Valley Medical Center and Dr. Robert Wlodarczyk, a cardiologist, for negligence during a 2001 procedure that caused her to lose feeling in her chest downward and made her unable to move her extremities, according to her suit.
Hollister-based doctor Ghulam Moheyuddin and Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital were originally named in the suit but were later dismissed because it was determined he did not act negligently, according to Castillo’s attorney, Victor Stefan.
The trial started Monday and is expected to last about 10 days under Judge Alan Hedegard in court room two.
Castillo is contending that the doctor and the nursing staff at Salinas Valley Medical Center did not provide her necessary care in accordance with appropriate standards resulting in her condition, Stefan said.
Stefan is seeking $250,000 plus the cost of past and future medical bills and future care, amounting to approximately $1 million. He said Castillo will need care for the rest of her life because of her condition.
“Dorothy’s got a good case and testimony is going well,” Stefan said. “The defendants were not interested in talking settlement because they don’t think they did anything wrong.”
Wlodarczyk’s attorney, Gary Winkler of San Francisco, said his client believes if he hadn’t acted in the manner he did, Castillo could have died instead of being paralyzed.
“Everything is easy in hindsight,” Winkler said. “I’m confident Dr. Wlodarczyk did what was within the standard of care at the time when he was faced with what he was faced with.”
Castillo, who had a long-standing history of coronary artery disease and arthritis, was admitted to Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital in April of 2001 for chest and upper back pain, according to the suit. Shortly after arriving, she began to show signs indicating a heart attack, according to court documents.
Moheyuddin inserted two pacemakers into Castillo, one in the upper chamber of her heart and the other into the lower. One of the pacemakers, called a lead, fell into the lower chamber, causing significant complications, Stefan said.
Moheyuddin wasn’t sure what caused the complications, so he sent Castillo to Salinas Valley Medical Center.
“This can happen in the absence of negligence,” Stefan said. “Crap happens – it was an unforeseen event. After taking Dr. Moheyuddin’s testimony we had it reviewed by our cardiac experts, and we were satisfied that he was not negligent in the placement of the lead.”
Stefan said Castillo had a degenerative disc disease in her neck, due to arthritis, that caused her spinal cord to become compressed during her stay at the hospital. Transfers and other manipulations to her neck while admitted ultimately lead to her paralysis, he said.
When she was taken to Salinas and another heart surgery was performed by Wlodarczyk to repair the failed pacemaker, Stefan said the doctor should have noticed the problem with Castillo’s neck and ordered surgery immediately.
Winkler said the Wlodarczyk did call a neurosurgeon when he realized Castillo was losing feeling in her limbs, but the neurosurgeon thought the problem was related to diabetes, not a progressive degeneration in her neck.
Later, when Wlodarczyk realized it was her spinal cord causing the complications, he decided not to send Castillo back into surgery because she was too weak from prior heart operations and could have died.
“The case is whether or not the hospital should have… sent her to the operating room despite the fact that she was very unstable,” Winkler said. “Having surgery the same day and a heart attack like she’d had, you’re taking a chance. Do you want someone to be alive and maybe be paralyzed, or dead – and then they’d really be paralyzed.”
Nurses that performed objective tests on Castillo told Wlodarczyk that she couldn’t feel anything in her lower extremities, Stefan said.
“The charts showed that Dr. Wlodarczyk put in one of the records that she didn’t have any sensory in her legs, but he didn’t do anything,” Stefan said. “She needed to have decompression surgery (to her spinal column) and he didn’t do anything about it for 24 hours, and by then she was permanently paralyzed.”
Castillo’s quality of life is bleak, Stefan said. She gets terrible ulcers, skin breakouts and bed sores from sitting so much and has to have them surgically repaired by doctors, he said.
“She also has terrible pain in her neck,” Stefan said. “She will spend the rest of her life bedridden.”
Winkler believes he has a good case, but concedes jury trials can go either way, he said.
“I think my guy didn’t do anything wrong, but with a jury you never know – especially with this particular person’s condition,” he said. “My heart goes out for her, obviously.”