The Washington Post reported incorrectly yesterday that Georgetown University Hospital has agreed to pay $250,000 in an out-of-court settlement of a medical malpractice suit. The hospital agreed to pay $145,000. The remaining $105,000 is to be paid by Dr. Marvin M. Gibson, the attending surgeon in the case.
Georgetown University Hospital has agreed to pay $250,000 to the teen-age sons of a 35-year-old Alexandria woman who suffered critical brain damage three years ago while a team of five physicians discussed which one would be responsible for performing emergency surgery.
The woman, Rosemary Gardner, slipped into a coma and died seven days later. She had undergone surgery on vertebrae in her neck and developed massive hemorrhaging and swelling in her throat that blocked the air passage and cut off oxygen to her brain.
By the time the doctors worked out rules of responsibility and cut an emergency air passage in Gardner's throat, her brain was already "dead," according to D.C. Superior Court records. Gardner never regained consciousness.
The settlement was worked out on Monday by the family's attorney, Leonard Keilp, and attorneys for Georgetown University Hospital and one of the surgeons.
Gardner was working as a Metro bus driver in September 1974 when her bus struck a pothole in the street and injured her neck and spine, according to court files. Her doctors eventually recommended that she have surgery to fuse some discs in her neck to alleviate intense pain.
According to depositions taken in the case, Gardner underwent that surgery on Dec. 28, 1976. The surgery was a technical success. But Gardner began to experience difficulty breathing after an oxygen supply tube was removed from her throat, according to the depositions.
Dr. Helen Lim, a first-year anesthesiologist resident, who had worked in the operating room, conveyed the patient's complaint to Dr. Gordon Avery, a first-year orthopedic surgeon, who had performed the first fusion operation on Gardner. Dr. Avery testified in his deposition that he loosened Gardner's cervical collar to relieve pressure on her neck, then left the recovery room.
Dr. Lim and the senior anesthesiologist, Dr. Eva Harnik, tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to reinsert an oxygen tube down Gardner's swollen throat to alleviate her breathing problem, according to the depositions.
Dr. Marvin M. Gibson, who supervised Gardner's surgery, returned to the recovery room and found that the patient's flesh tones were growing darker, indicating an insufficient supply of oxygen.
Dr. Gibson began an immediate external heart massage. Later he supervised two operations in which the hemorrhaging area of the throat was opened to relieve pressure from blood clots and a small opening was cut into Gardner's throat to restore breathing.
According to court papers filed by Gibson's attorney, Laurence T. Scott, Gibson was not in charge of the patient once the surgery was completed and the patient was removed to the recovery room.
"When he returned coincidentally, he was not aware of Gardner's condition," according to the papers, "but recognized that something was seriously wrong and began cardiac massage. At this point in time Dr. Gibson is not in charge of the patient, and particularly is not in charge of the airway."
Scott's statement contended that problems concerning the patient's air passage "is the responsibility of Anesthesia." Problems having to do with surgery are the responsibility of the attending surgeon, according to the lawyer's statement.
A statement submitted to the court by Georgetown's lawyer, Thomas Penfield Jackson, maintained that "it is the responsibilities of the senior surgeon, and not the anesthesiologist to establish an alternative airway surgically" when the anesthesiologist is unable to reinsert the oxygen supply tube.
Raymond L. Buker, Gardner's friend and administrator of her estate, was told by Georgetown doctors after her death that Gardner had accidentally removed her own oxygen tube after the surgery and had gone into a coma as a result, according to Buker's deposition.
Buker filed a malpractice suit in 1978 on behalf of Gardner's two sons, Peter, 13, and James, 19.