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Paid for pain - Woman awarded $4.5 million in lawsuit against UHWI over wrong blood transfusion

Published:Monday | December 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett

A woman who was twice given the wrong blood transfusion by medical personnel at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) 10 years ago has been awarded close to $4.5 million in damages.

Barbara Wright complained, in a lawsuit filed against the UHWI, that she endured days of pain, suffering, and depersonalisation before hospital officials informed her of the error.

Wright also complained that she experienced blindness for two days and is still suffering from flashbacks and the uncertainties of any lasting effects from the error.

Court documents reveal that the UHWI acknowledged the error and admitted liability but challenged the compensation sought by Wright.

Among the documents tendered as evidence was a medical report prepared by Dr Gillian Wharfe, a consultant haematologist at the UHWI at the time, which found that the nursing staff that treated Wright did not follow the established protocol related to blood transfusions.

 

INCORRECT RED BLOOD CELLS

 

The result, according to Wharfe's report, was that Wright received packed red blood cells of the incorrect group on March 5, 2006.

Wright was awarded $4 million in general damages, with three per cent interest from August 2011; and $84,000 in special damages, with three per cent interest, dating back to June 2006.

Justice Stephanie Jackson Haisley, who presided over the trial, which ended more than two weeks ago, also ordered that Wright be paid $360,000 to cover future medical expenses.

Wright recounted that on March 4, 2006, she was admitted to the UHWI with a low blood count and persistent bleeding. She said that while being treated, she was twice transfused with blood that was incompatible with her own.

Wright said that starting that night, and for several days, she endured sleepless nights as well as intolerable pain throughout her body.

She said that that was when hospital personnel briefed her about the error and advised her that she was experiencing a low platelet count.

Wright indicated that she could not afford to pay a haematologist to find out whether it would have any negative effects on her body in the future.

As a result, she said she lives in fear that one day she will find out about the negative effects of the error.

But according to the court documents, Wharfe contended that the error did not cause Wright any discomfort or long-term physical effects.

Wharfe indicated that based on what she read in Wright's medical file, her temperature was only elevated on the night of March 9.

 

DRUGS CAUSED AILMENTS

 

The medical practitioner also revealed that tests confirmed the absence of any sequelae from the mismatch. In addition, Wharfe indicated that Wright's complaints of low blood platelets, temporary blindness, and hypertension were not caused by the error, but by the drugs that were being used to treat her initial diagnosis.

However, Jackson Haisley, in her decision, described Wharfe's assertion that Wright did not suffer any discomfort as "somewhat questionable".

"She arrives at this finding based on examination of the docket (Wright's medical file), which does not reflect any complaints made by the claimant," Jackson Haisley wrote.

The judge said that she accepted Wright's account of the intolerable pain she suffered throughout her body and that it started the night after the wrong blood transfusion.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com