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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Couple sues GW Hospital, Medical Faculty Associates alleging negligence during surgery

File Photo by Arielle Bader
Guillermo Gutierrez, a tenured medical professor, is suing the University and Medical Faculty Associates for $137,500.

A couple is suing the GW Hospital and Medical Faculty Associates for $3 million alleging personnel were negligent during a spinal surgery that physically disabled a female patient.

In a 12-page complaint filed in the D.C. Superior Court Monday, Lillian and Samuel Himbrick alleged that neurosurgeons Donald Shields and Elizabeth Hogan injured Mrs. Himbrick during spinal surgery, violating national care standards. The lawsuit states that the defendants implanted spinal cord stimulator paddles – a device that treats spinal pain – that debilitated Himbrick and neglected to use other measures like CT scans and X-rays that would have simplified treatment and averted injury.

“The Plaintiffs allege that the Defendant Shields, assisted by the Defendant Hogan, violated the national standards of care in placing the spinal cord stimulator, which was totally unnecessary,” the complaint states.

GW Hospital spokeswoman Susan Griffiths and MFA spokeswoman Barbara Porter did not return requests for comment.

The lawsuit states that the hospital admitted Himbrick in May 2017 to install the simulator to alleviate pain from spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal that inflicts pain, weakness and or numbness on the arms and legs. The lawsuit states that Shields was aware of an inconsistent “response” from the patient’s left and right popliteal fossa, located behind the knee joint, but “negligently” continued to install the stimulators despite the unusual signals.

“Despite abnormal intraoperative neuromonitoring signals, the Defendant negligently continued with the procedure and traumatically injured the Plaintiff’s spinal cord during paddle placement,” the complaint states.

Himbrick could not move after the surgery and experienced “bowel and bladder dysfunction” and spinal numbness, according to the complaint. The lawsuit states the hospital discharged Himbrick “in a severely injured and debilitated condition.”

Himbrick alleges the surgeons should have altered the procedure because the national requirement to conduct a CT scan would have revealed the cause of her stenosis to be an abnormal bone painfully growing in non-skeletal tissue. The complaint states that an MRI review from April that indicated the stenosis should have also prompted the surgeons to adjust Himbrick’s treatment for her condition.

“The Plaintiffs allege that the Defendant Shields simply needed to shave down this bone in order to alleviate her symptoms and that the placement of a spinal cord stimulator was not indicated,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit states that the surgeons failed to take X-rays in the lateral view of Himbrick’s spine and respond to Himbrick’s complaints when she was exhibiting spinal abnormalities after the surgery.

“Had the Defendants utilized proper imaging, paddle placements would not have impinged upon the Plaintiff’s spinal cord and would not have created her injuries,” the complaint states.

Himbrick still cannot move without a walker or wheelchair and depends on her husband for basic tasks like getting dressed and showering, according to the complaint. Himbrick suffers from “emotional anguish, fear, anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment over her condition” and will need nursing assistance for the rest of her life, the lawsuit states.

“She has lost her former state of well-being, has suffered lost time from employment and has lost her ability to maintain gainful employment – all due to the direct and proximate result of the negligence of these Defendants,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit claims Himbrick’s injury has also damaged her marriage, as she has lost her ability to act as “a normal wife.”

Himbrick visited “another local hospital” in August 2017, where she underwent a CT myelogram – a test that can locate spinal cord injury – which found “spinal cord compression” before medical professionals removed the paddles that GW Hospital had implanted, the lawsuit states. The complaint states Himbrick received an MRI later that month, which revealed fluid collection that caused “mild cord flattening” after the surgery.

The couple is electing to bring their case to a trial by a jury of six, according to the lawsuit.

Lillian Himbrick declined a request to comment, and her attorneys, Jonathan Scochor and James Cardea, did not return a request for comment. Donald Shields and Elizabeth Hogan, the defendants in the case, also did not return a request for comment.

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