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Woman Awakens During Gall Bladder Surgery, Dies from Heart Failure

Jury agrees she should have been intubated, awards $7.9 million.

Published: June 23, 2014

The family of a woman who died in 2009 after complications during gall bladder surgery has won a $7.9 million malpractice judgment.

The lawyer for the family of 24-year-old Nicki Costner, who was 5-foot-2 and weighed 270 pounds, argued that she should have been intubated and given a general anesthetic during the laparoscopic procedure because she was obese.

According to news reports, Ms. Costner was given propofol, but woke up during the procedure, thrashed about, gasped for air and screamed in pain for 20 or 30 seconds before losing consciousness. Her condition deteriorated and she eventually went into cardiac arrest. She was airlifted to the University of Michigan hospital, but several days later she suffered another cardiac arrest and died.

"They should have used a general anesthetic and an endotracheal tube to decrease the likelihood of complications, they did not do that and she aspirated her stomach contents," said the family's attorney in a news release. "She stopped breathing, got very sick on the respirator, was transferred to (another hospital) and died five days later."

The jury returned a unanimous verdict in the case against anesthesiologist William E. Clay, MD, and William Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Point, Mich.

Spokesman Bob Ortlieb said the hospital plans to appeal, adding, "We believe the care that we provided was appropriate, but we are very sorry for the family's loss."

Dr. Clay did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Outpatient Surgery.

Jim Burger

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