Inside a thick folder in the basement of the Prince William County Circuit Court annex is a photograph of Hilda Nadine Amidon at age 57, overweight but smiling, taken before she underwent routine surgery at Potomac Hospital in 1977.
The snapshot is now Exhibit A in a three-year-long court battle between Amidon's estate, her doctors and the hospital. Exhibit B to the complaint brought by Amidon's estate is a series of photographs taken of Amidon after the operation: They show her brain dead, according to her lawyer, and bedridden at the Hermitage in Northern Virginia, a nursing home in Alexandria.
Two weeks ago the Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge was found negligent in the care of Amidon, who suffered cardiac arrest while under general anesthesia and was not revived in time to save her brain. The seven-member Circuit Court jury ordered the hospital to pay $1.2 million to the Amidon estate, one of the largest malpractice awards ever in Northern Virginia, say attorneys for the estate.
Three doctors who were also sued settled with Amidon's estate before trial, with no finding of liability.
Attorneys for the hospital said this week they will appeal the case to the State Supreme Court.
"It is a difficult case, a sad case," said Gerald Walsh, attorney for Potomac Hospital. "But we went to court because we felt we were not responsible and we will appeal because we still believe we were not responsible for what happened to Hilda Amidon."
She entered Potomac Hospital on Sept. 14, 1977, for a dilation and curettement, commonly called a D and C, a relatively minor operation in which the inside of the uterus is scraped clean.
Amidon was overweight, diabetic and had a dangerously low potassium level when she entered the hospital, according to the complaint filed by her sister, Josephine Dillon, in August 1980 on behalf of Amidon's estate. The suit, against the doctors James Kent, Mehdi Jandaghi and Socorro Tamase (who has since died) and the Potomac Hospital Corp., alleged that the doctors decided to operate on Amidon Sept. 16, before her potassium level had a chance to rise and stabilize. The charge was denied by the doctors in court documents.
On Sept. 16 Amidon was wheeled into Operating Room 2, anesthetized by Tamase and operated on by Jandaghi. Hospital records show that minutes after the operation was completed, Amidon went into cardiac arrest. (The suit alleges it was because her potassium level was 2.2. The normal range is 3.5 to 5.5.)
Jandaghi attempted to use a defibrillator machine, which shocks the heart into action, according to the complaint.
Head nurse Doris Waters testified at the trial that she walked into the operating room and heard Jandaghi say, in reference to the machine, "This damn thing doesn't work." Hospital records introduced at the trial show another defibrillator machine was brought forward and Amidon's heart made to beat again, some 20 minutes after it had quit. By that time, Amidon's attorneys argued in court, it was too late to save her brain, causing a coma they say she will suffer the rest of her life.
A witness for the hospital testified in court that the machine was operating properly.
In a report filed the afternoon of the operation and introduced at the trial, Waters wrote that she had given a message several weeks before Amidon's operation to Dr. Charles C. Yu, a hospital administrator and Tamase's boss, asking whether the defibrillator was "adequate" because it did not seem to be responding properly to a maintenence test. Waters testified she never heard from Yu or anyone else about the machine. She wrote in the report, "Today we learned the hard way that it (the machine) was not capable of defibrillating a large patient."
The three doctors, Kent (Amidon's general physician who recommended the surgery), Jandaghi and the deceased Tamase's lawyers, settled with Amidon's estate out of court in July for a total of $475,000, said Thomas J. Harrigan, an attorney for Amidon's estate. Potomac Hospital was the only defendant brought to trial this August. Harrigan said the $475,000 out-of-court settlement will by applied to the $1.2 million judgment, leaving the hospital to pay the $725,000 difference.
Walsh said The Hospital's appeal would be based on Judge Selwyn Smith's instructions to the jury before it retired to consider the case.