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Couple Awarded $23 Million after 6-Year Struggle

A Washington D.C. Superior Court jury awarded almost $23 million in damages to a couple 6-years after a botched surgical procedure left the husband incapacitated and completely dependent on his wife for care.

In 1999, Fred Wilson, then 59, was diagnosed with a neurological condition known as hydrocephalus. The disorder causes excess spinal fluid to collect in the brain cavity resulting in memory loss and urinary incontinence among other things.

Wilson underwent a customary procedure, which involved the insertion of a catheter into his skull to drain the excess fluid. After the incision failed to heal, Wilson’s neurosurgeon, John W. Barrett, transferred him to the care of a plastic surgeon to close the opening.

Rafael Convit, the plastic surgeon, was unfamiliar with the device and unsure how or whether to cover it. Nevertheless, in May 2000, Convit performed surgery to cover the exposed area with a flap of skin.

The procedure forever changed Wilson’s life and his wife’s.

The day following the surgery, Wilson slipped into a coma. He stayed at Washington Hospital Center for five weeks before his wife, Eileen, arranged for him to be transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Michael A. Williams, a specialist in hydrocephalus, determined that Wilson had fungal meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

Five weeks after being admitted to Johns Hopkins, Wilson’s wife learned that their insurance would no longer cover his hospital stay. Doctors at the hospital urged her to care for him at home rather than put him in a nursing home.

The hospital staff trained Eileen Wilson for five days before sending her home to care for her comatose husband alone.

Months later, Wilson suddenly emerged from his coma. However, this did little to ease his wife’s burden of caring for him.

In 2003, the couple filed a lawsuit against the neurosurgeon Barrett, his practice, the Washington Brain and Spine Institute, and Convit, the plastic surgeon. They sought more than $30 million in damages to cover Wilson’s future medical care and to compensate them for their pain and suffering.

The trial lasted nearly four weeks. After several hours of deliberation, the jury concluded that the mistake never should have happened and awarded the couple one of the largest malpractice verdicts in the District.

Jury forewoman Miriam Valoy said she didn’t understand why the insurance company chose to go to trial. “It certainly seemed to me that they should have settled, because it was pretty clear they had dropped the ball,” she said.

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