A D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday awarded $2.5 million to a 53-year-old Southeast Washington woman who claimed she was paralyzed from the waist down because of a surgeon's negligence during open-heart surgery at George Washington University Hospital.
Christanna Morton had claimed in her suit that heart surgeon Paul Adkins, former head of the university's surgery department, failed to properly close her heart after operating on it, allowing an air bubble to block blood vessels supplying nerves to Morton's legs.
According to court testimony, medical history has never recorded such an air blockage occurring. Adkins died in 1980. Attorneys for his estate contended that Morton's paralysis was the result of a blood clot--a common risk involved in heart surgery--and that Adkins could not be blamed.
"We are very pleased," said Morton's attorney, Barry Nace. "These people really need the money."
An attorney for Adkin's estate, Joe Montedonico, described the jury's finding as "a medical miracle . . . We never denied that Mrs. Morton sustained injuries from the operation. What we said was that what she suffered was more an act of God than a result of technical errors on the part of the doctor."
The jury also awarded nearly $250,000 to Morton's husband, who sued for loss of household services his wife can no longer perform.
The Morton's suit originally had named the university as well as Adkins. Judge William C. Gardner dismissed that claim, however, saying no negligence on the part of the university could be found.
The trial lasted nearly a month and jurors deliberated a week over testimony from numerous specialists. Those who testified on behalf of Adkins told the jury that the air blockage Morton claimed had occurred was medically impossible.
Morton had sought surgery to repair a defect in the wall between two chambers in her heart. Nace told the jurors that air was left inside the heart when the heart was closed and traveled through the bloodstream to a point near the spinal column.