By Douglas Moser
---- — A Rockingham County jury earlier this month awarded a New Hampshire couple $5 million after a medical malpractice trial against a radiologist whom the couple said did not diagnose and prevent an impending stroke that caused brain damage.
Noel and Adam Jodoin, of Fremont, N.H., sued radiologist Dr. Ellen Johnson, then known as Ellen Gerety, accusing her of missing evidence on a CT scan of a stroke Noel Jodoin was about to suffer in 2007. Attorneys for the Jodoins said the stroke was severe and the hemorrhage damaged Noel Jodoin’s brain.
Gary Richardson, an attorney with Upton & Hatfield of Concord, N.H., the firm that represented the Jodoins, said two emergency room physicians and a physician’s assistant could not treat Jodoin to prevent a stroke because of Johnson’s faulty CT scan reading.
“The radiologist had read the CT scan as negative and the other health providers relied on that reading in treating the patient in believing she was suffering from a migraine headache,” Richardson said.
The jury deliberated for three hours Nov. 15 after a two week trial before returning with a verdict that held Johnson responsible and awarded the Jodoins $5 million in damages, the amount the couple had sought.
J. Peter Kelley, a Burlington, Mass., attorney who defended Johnson, directed questions about the judgment to a public relations specialist Katharine Gould, who said she could not comment on the case.
Johnson currently works as a radiologist at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen. An email and phone calls seeking comment from a hospital spokesperson were not returned. Johnson’s license is active and as of Nov. 21 there were no malpractice or disciplinary records on her Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine file.
On Aug. 9, 2007, Noel Johnson, then 25, went to Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire at about 8:30 a.m. for treatment of a severe headache that had started three days earlier, according to court documents. She saw occasional flashes of light and over-the-counter headache medicine was not effective.
Initially, she was treated for a migraine and given intravenous fluids and pain medication. But at about 11:30 a.m., a nurse noticed Jodoin had slurred speech, restlessness, giggling, paralysis to her right arm and low blood pressure. At 12:20 p.m., a physician ordered Jodoin undergo a CT scan and consulted with a neurologist.
According to Jodoin’s attorneys and court records, Johnson, who at that time worked for Advanced Diagnostic Imaging and was assigned to Exeter Hospital, noticed in the CT scan that two veins in Jodoin’s brain were “mildly prominent,” but said that was of “doubtful clinical significance.”
“Our experts felt that it had been misread and improperly reported to the emergency department,” Richardson said of the CT scan.
At 5:35 p.m. Jodoin suffered a severe seizure and hemorrhage, and hospital staff put her on a ventilator. She was flown to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where a new CT scan showed the hemorrhage in Jodoin’s brain.
She was on a breathing machine for 11 days, and Richardson said she was in an induced coma for part of that time.
If the impending stroke had been diagnosed at Exeter, Richardson said a blood thinner called heparin could have been administered to prevent it.
As a result, Jodoin is partially paralyzed in her right arm and hand, developed epilepsy and now suffers from seizures. Plans to complete a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire had to be put off, though Richardson said Jodoin eventually finished.
“The Jodoins are very pleased with the verdict and hopefully can move on with their lives,” Richardson said. Richardson, Heather Burns and Lisa Hall worked on the case for Upton & Hatfield.
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