John M. Power
John M. Power

The estate of a man who died after a doctor inserted a feeding tube into one of his lungs has settled its wrongful-death suit for $3.8 million.

The two-part agreement was finalized last week in plaintiff Teresa Sutherland and special administrator Kimberly Stefanek’s suit, which alleged Advocate Christ Medical Center and its staff failed to notice a physician incorrectly placed a feeding tube in Glenn Sutherland’s right lung before they began feeding him, causing his death in June 2010.

Sutherland, then a 61-year-old interstate truck driver from Arkansas, visited the Oak Lawn hospital after he fell about 15 feet while securing plastic pipes on his flatbed trailer at Allied Tube & Conduit Co. in Harvey.

Sutherland hit his head, face, shoulder and chest in the fall. He was immediately admitted into the hospital’s trauma unit, and an evaluation revealed he suffered non-life-threatening orthopedic injuries as well as some bleeding underneath the lining of his brain.

“If this was a subdural, they would just drill a little bur hole and the blood would ooze out, and that would be the end of it,” said John M. Power, a partner at Cogan & Power P.C. who represented the plaintiffs. “But it was actually inside the lining, or intracerebral, so they can’t really go in and drain it, so they have to watch it.”

Physicians gave Sutherland pain, anti-swelling and anti-seizure medication for the bleeding. They also sedated him so the injury could heal without getting agitated, Power said.

After his sedation, Power said, Sutherland underwent a CT scan of his head, which indicated he would be OK through the night. Physicians then ordered Sutherland to receive a nose-to-stomach feeding tube so they could maintain his nutrition while he was sedated.

A second CT scan the following morning revealed a minor change in Sutherland’s brain, Power said, but physicians ordered he receive a second feeding tube, called a dobhoff, for his nutritional needs.

Sutherland’s attending doctor wanted to ensure the tube was correctly inserted before feeding began that afternoon, Power said, so he asked Dr. Glenn Henrickson to confirm its location on Sutherland’s chest X-ray.

Power said the physician asked the right question, but the mix-up came when nurses ordered Henrickson to confirm the nasogastric tube’s placement instead of the dobhoff’s placement.

“So Doctor Henrickson was looking for an NG tube, and he found it in the stomach, which is the same one that was there the day before,” Power said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t look for a dobhoff, and there was a dobhoff on the actual X-ray, but it was curled up and went into the base of the right lung.”

After Henrickson reported the feeding tube was correctly placed, Power said, Sutherland received continuous feedings for several hours before nurses noticed his oxygen saturation began decreasing and he was aspirating through his tracheal air tube.

Power said Sutherland’s medical records are unclear whether nurses stopped the dobhoff feedings and left the fluid in his lungs or continued to feed him through the tube because they thought he aspirated stomach contents into his lungs.

“It’s not clear because of the way the chart was written, but they clearly didn’t aggressively clean out whatever was in his lung or his (tracheal) tube from the feedings,” Power said. “We know that because at 9:30, they cleaned out more stuff out of his (tracheal) tube.”

No physicians ordered a repeat X-ray until after the 9:30 cleaning, Power said, at which point they realized the dobhoff tube had been misplaced. Doctors then pulled the tube out, suctioned out his lung and flooded it to remove the nutritional supplement to clear it out.

Sutherland’s left lung had been injured in his fall, Power said, so doctors relied on his right lung to oxygenate his body and organs. Although the physicians cleared his right lung, he said, Sutherland’s oxygen saturation rates never recovered and his lungs became inflamed as a response to being filled from the feedings.

The inflammatory response, which causes a person’s lungs to lose the ability to absorb and exchange oxygen, eventually resulted in multisystem organ failure and Sutherland died the following day, Power said.

Stefanek and Teresa Sutherland filed a lawsuit against Advocate Christ, Henrickson and his employer, Radiology Imaging Consultants S.C. in 2012. The suit alleged the hospital and its staff was negligent in placing Sutherland’s dobhoff tube in his right lung, failing to notice the misplacement, feeding him despite the misplacement and failing to timely stop the feedings.

The Sutherland estate was also represented by Miguel A. Ruiz, a partner at Cogan & Power.

Partner Rudolf G. Schade Jr. of Cassiday, Schade LLP represented the hospital, and partner Edward H. Nielsen of Pretzel & Stouffer Chtd. represented Henrickson and Radiology Imaging.

In their answers to the complaint, the defendants denied wrongdoing. Neither attorney could be reached for comment.

They didn’t reach a settlement during mediation before Geoffrey L. Gifford of Pavalon & Gifford in February — two months before Advocate Christ settled their role in the case for $1.9 million in April.

Power said the talks fell apart because the defendants were interested in settling the case but were still trying to figure out who among them should step up first.

Power said he worked with Henrickson and Radiology Imaging to settle their case after reaching the agreement with the hospital, and those discussions led those defendants to match the amount paid by the hospital.

Power said Sutherland’s wife Teresa is doing “much better” now that the case is resolved, as is his son Zach, who was 17 at the time and is now in college.

“Zach had a very, very difficult time,” Power said. “When he realized (the settlement) was finally going to happen, he was able to move forward … and Teresa is looking forward to him continuing to heal..”

The case is Kimberly Stefanek et al. v. Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center et al., 12 L 6771.