Legal Battle Ensues Over Kidney Stone Amputations

When Lisa Strong, now 45, went to the emergency room in the early morning hours with back pain from a kidney stone she hardly imagined that she'd leave four months later as a quadruple amputee.

"I was on a respirator in the ICU and I don't remember the first 10 days," said Strong, of Davie, Fla. Her then-husband and two young children had waited anxiously for a diagnosis or any good news as Strong battled septic shock, lived through surgery and then survived multiple heart attacks.

She got a diagnosis, "but at that point they didn't know I would be losing my hands and feet," said Strong.

Over the next month Strong watched the black "line of demarcation" as doctors called it inch up her fingers and toes signaling just how much of her limbs she would lose.

"My hands were black, it was as if I stuck them in a fire. The line moved very slowly, and it was very painful burning," said Strong. "I thought if I exercised a lot I could get life back into my limbs."

That was in 2004. Five years later Strong's tale of miscommunication, missed opportunities and tragedy has taken another twist.

Broward County Circuit Judge Charles M. Greene has thrown out a jury's 2006 not-guilty verdict in Strong's malpractice suit against nurses and three doctors in charge of Strong's care. According to the National Center for State Courts, judges set aside less than one-half of 1 percent of jury verdicts in civil trials nationwide in 2005, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available.

Now the emergency room physician and the doctor who admitted her to the hospital must again explain exactly what happened during the 16 hours after Strong claims she said she had a kidney stone, and doctors diagnosed her with a kidney stone.

"I walked into the hospital and told the triage nurse I have a kidney stone, I have a history of kidney stones and that I was a 10 on the 1 to 10 pain scale," said Strong. "After I talked with the triage nurse I started throwing up … I don't remember a lot after I started throwing up."

How a Kidney Stone Turns Deadly

Lawyers agree on a rough timeline of events. Strong came into the hospital between midnight and 2 a.m., vomiting and with a fever and she told the nurse about her pain and her kidney stones.

By 4 a.m. the emergency room physician saw her and ordered an ultrasound. By 5, Strong had gone into septic shock -- the body's fighting attempt to keep the brain and vital organs alive.

Strong then bounced from an emergency room doctor's care, to the care of an off-site internist, to waiting for three hours more for a doctor's care, to a doctor who showed up late for a shift, to a surgeon's care and then into an exploratory abdominal surgery that did not diagnose the problem.

Finally, around 4:30 p.m. the next day, two doctors used a CT scan to diagnose Strong with a kidney stone that had been blocking her kidney and causing the deadly infection to circulate in the blood stream.

In the end, all agree Strong ended up waiting too long in the hospital for hours on vasopressors -- medicine that would save her life, but endanger her limbs the longer she went without a proper diagnosis.

A jury decided neither the nurses, nor the surgeon, nor the emergency room physician Dr. Laurentina Kocik, nor the internist Dr. Jason Strong, was to blame.

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