A local woman is suing an anesthesiologist and his professional group for the aftermath of a wrist surgery gone wrong.
Counsel for Jill Lubing alleged Tuesday that anesthesiologist David Tomlinson, of Grand Anesthesia Group, was negligent and didn’t follow proper safety precautions when administering a nerve block at St. John’s Medical Center in March 2015. Tomlinson’s lawyers deny the allegation.
The regional nerve block made its way into Lubing’s bloodstream, “needless harm” attorneys Rob Stepans and Ryan Shaffer say could’ve been prevented. Lubing went into cardiopulmonary collapse, stopped breathing and had several seizures — something they say created a hypoxic brain injury.
Such instances are rare. An article published by the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine said the estimated incidence of seizures caused by local anesthetic systemic toxicity, or LAST, after a peripheral nerve block was 0.6 to 0.9 per 1,000.
According to her lawyers, Lubing now feels like she is “in a fog” and has isolated herself due to problems speaking, finding words, remembering things, focusing and balancing that impact her ability to socialize and do activities she enjoys, like horseback riding.
Shaffer said she’ll never be the same as she was before the surgery and that “on multiple levels and in multiple ways, what happened to Jill Lubing was ultimately avoidable.”
Tomlinson’s defense disagrees with the premise that he caused Lubing’s brain injury at all. Attorney Jeff Brinkerhoff argued that Lubing’s brain injury was from the horseback riding fall that resulted in the broken wrist that needed surgery in the first place and her pre-existing conditions.
“This is a case about jumping to the wrong conclusions,” Brinkerhoff told the jury.
A jury was selected Tuesday morning, and opening arguments for both sides were heard in Teton County District Court before Judge Steven Sharp. The trial is expected to last through the end of next week. Lubing is seeking $750,000 in damages.
Tomlinson’s Wyoming medical license and ability to practice medicine are not in question.
In opening arguments both lawyers laid out the witnesses they planned to call as medical experts. They include anesthesiologists, neurologists and neuropsychologists from around the region and country to present safety protocols and standards for medical care, as well as experts who were in the room or close by when the incident occurred.
If opening arguments are any indication, the trial will drill down to the nitty-gritty.
What’s being disputed includes, for example, the length of Lubing’s seizures and if brain cell damage could’ve occurred during that time frame; whether the kind of brain damage she claims to have would appear on an MRI; and the role (if any) previous head injuries might have played in the brain damage.
The trial will also examine what happened in the operating room. Disputed details include whether Tomlinson and his nurse assistant properly checked for blood vessels at the injection site; if the drug epinephrine should have been used in a test dose of the anesthesia; if vital signs were being properly monitored; and even the repeated use of the word “relatively” in Tomlinson’s documentation of the incident.
— Emily Mieure contributed to this report