Survivor of mold outbreak sues UPMC claiming negligence
January 4, 2016 7:48 PM
Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette
A double-lung transplant patient who contracted a mold infection during his stay at UPMC Presbyterian, sued the hospital for negligence today
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Before the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a preliminary report two weeks ago about a mold outbreak that led to three patients’ deaths at UPMC, attorneys for the one patient who survived had an idea that the room he stayed in played a role.
The CDC report released Dec. 21 “allowed us to figure out stuff we never would have known without filing a lawsuit,” said attorney Brendan Lupetin, who represents the surviving patient, Che DuVall, and his wife, Karen. “And it gave us the details of that negative-pressure room.”
The negative-pressure room, in which three of the four infected patients stayed at UPMC, was the central part of the CDC’s report as well as the medical negligence lawsuit the DuValls’ attorneys filed Monday against UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
The 21-page lawsuit alleges that a series of missteps led to Mr. DuVall, 70, of Perryopolis, Fayette County, contracting a fungal-sourced mold infection - rhizopus mucormycosis -- because of what it claims are UPMC's own flawed policies.
“Defendant Presbyterian knew or should have known that placing Che DuVall in a negative-pressure environment, given his state of immune suppression, vastly increased his risk of contracting a myriad of life-threatening infections, including that which befell him – a rhizopus mucormycosis,” the lawsuit says.
Mr. DuVall is still an inpatient at Presbyterian battling the results of the infection, but he is doing better than he was and is able to finally talk clearly since a tracheotomy tube that was helping him breath was recently removed, said Mr. Lupetin.
Mr. Lupetin said no specific doctors or medical staff are accused in the lawsuit because “most of the care in question were corporate policies and procedures in the care of the patients.”
UPMC spokeswoman Allison Hydzik said the hospital had no comment on the lawsuit.
Mr. DuVall, and two other patients who were infected, had stayed in the same negative-pressure room, the only such room in the cardiothoracic ICU.
A fourth patient, who also died, received a liver transplant at UPMC Montefiore, which adjoins Presbyterian, but the CDC is more perplexed about that case because it has less in common than the other three.
Negative-pressure rooms are designed to draw air into the room from outside for patients who already have a potentially airborne contagious disease, but prevent the air in the room from spreading to other patients.
It is because of that that the CDC’s own 12-year-old guidelines advise that immunocompromised patients not be kept in such rooms because they are more susceptible to infection that might be drawn into the room.
Mr. DuVall and the other two patients at Presbyterian all had undergone transplants. That meant they were classified as immunosuppressed because of the drugs they take to prevent their body from rejecting their new organs.
Mr. DuVall was a double-lung transplant patient at UPMC Presbyterian, and the other two patients, both of whom died, were heart transplant patients.
UPMC said after the CDC report was released that the only reason they were placed in that room was because they had nowhere else to put them in the busy cardiothoracic ICU at Presbyterian, and that that was a common practice at other hospitals.
The CDC report noted that the negative-pressure room’s apparent flaw was that it drew air in from a corridor next to the otherwise sealed room that was above a heavily trafficked carpeted hallway near an exit and family area.
The CDC theorized that spores left in the carpet from foot traffic could have been aerosolized and drawn into the vent and then into the negative-pressure room. The CDC advised UPMC to remove the carpeting and make the exit an emergency exit only, which UPMC said it has done.
It was, Mr. Lupetin said, “a perfect storm of a room” for infection.
In the lawsuit the DuValls ask for unspecified damages for pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of wages, and loss of companionship for Mrs. DuVall.
Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2579 or Twitter @SeanDHamill
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