Carilion Clinic has agreed to pay $1.8 million in the settlement of a lawsuit claiming a video-assisted surgical procedure left a Virginia Tech professor’s daughter with a permanent brain injury.
Percival Zhang and his wife brought their 21-month-old daughter, Michelle, to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital on Sept. 18, 2012. She suffered from, among other things, pneumonia, respiratory distress, bacteria in her blood, low blood platelets and systemic inflammatory response syndrome, or SIRS, a condition similar to sepsis producing systemic inflammation and possible organ failure.
The child was “awake … alert … and playful” Oct. 2, 2012, according to the family’s medical malpractice suit.
The suit says her pediatric surgeon gained consent from the family to perform video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, a procedure that involves using a scope to insert a small camera into the patient’s chest. The suit adds that the toddler’s anesthesiologist opted for a single lung ventilation method, a technique that allows one lung to be ventilated independently. The method is used in noncardiac procedures in the chest region.
The toddler’s oxygen levels rapidly began dropping during surgery, causing the child to suffer cardiac arrest, leading to the brain injury, according to the lawsuit.
The doctors “shared a joint responsibility to terminate the procedure when it became apparent that Michelle was not tolerating ... [single lung ventilation],” the lawsuit states.
The suit cites “emotional distress and mental pain and suffering” in addition to the injury. Michelle will “sustain a loss of income and diminishment of earning capacity in the future,” the suit says.
A Montgomery County judge approved the settlement in September. Under the deal, the child is to be paid slightly more than $5,000 a month for 50 years once she becomes an adult. Lump-sum payments of $50,000 are to be distributed to a special needs trust fund in her name.
“The Zhang family has been through a lot, and we deeply regret that their child suffered while in our care,” Carilion President and CEO Nancy Agee said in a written statement. “We continue to send them our thoughts and prayers.”
In the settlement filing, Carilion denied legal liability for Michelle’s injuries but said the organization opted for the deal because of the uncertainties a jury trial could bring.
The suit originally was filed in Roanoke in October 2013, listing both the surgeon and anesthesiologist, Carilion and Anesthesia Consultants of Virginia as defendants.
Both doctors were dropped from the suit, which was terminated in Roanoke, clearing the way for the settlement in Montgomery County. Carilion said the health care system agreed to that move for the convenience of the Zhangs, who live in the area.
A Richmond attorney for the family did not return a call.
Percival Zhang, a biological systems engineering professor, declined to comment, citing a confidentiality pact in the settlement.
Zhang has been teaching at Virginia Tech since 2005. In May of 2014, he received national attention when he developed a way to turn wood chips into edible starches. He has since been featured in several national news outlets and is the recipient of several awards during his tenure at Virginia Tech.
State law caps medical malpractice awards at slightly more than $2 million.
Staff writer Laurence Hammack contributed to this report.