Late-Diagnosis Claim Yields Record Accord

A former Chicago elementary school teacher rendered disabled after she suffered a brain aneurysm has received a $4 million settlement in a medical negligence suit against her health care provider.

The settlement, reached on behalf of 46-year-old Nancy Sea, marks the largest reported Illinois settlement for a delay in the diagnosis of a ruptured brain aneurysm with vasospasm, according to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter.

Cook County Associate Judge Miriam Ellen Harrison of the Probate Division approved the settlement terms on Thursday, said Sea’s attorney, Kurt D. Lloyd.

Although the settlement prevents Lloyd from identifying the defendants in the case, court records list the defendants as Humana Health Plan, Inc., d/b/a Sykes Center, Dr. Mark Karides and Kathy Merrill, a nurse.

Sea was shoveling snow on the front walk of her Chicago home on Jan. 10, 1995, before leaving for work at Holden elementary School, 1104 W. 31st St., when she experienced a sudden, severed headache and dizziness, said Lloyd.  Sea vomited, called in sick at work, and then went to bed, he said.

When Sea’s husband, Kevin, arrived at the home at 4:30 p.m. that day, Sea told him her neck was stiff and that her headache was “the worst of her life,” said Lloyd.  Kevin Sea than called the family’s medical clinic and obtained an after-hours appointment at 7 p.m., Lloyd said.

An on-call physician who was an internist examined Sea and diagnosed her with the flu, said Lloyd.  Sea’s chart did not show she was complaining of a headache, he said.

Five days after seeing the physician, Sea began slurring her speech and dropping things held in her right hand, said Lloyd.  When she was taken to the emergency room at Michael Reese Hospital, a CT scan of her head revealed a ruptured aneurysm in the left middle cerebral artery, he said.

An arteriogram performed the next day showed severe vasospasm, which causes untreatable, irreversible brain damage, said Lloyd.  Sea is no longer able to speak and has partial paralysis to her right side, he said.  She is able to walk with a cane and feed, bathe and dress herself.

Sea never returned to her work as a teacher, said Lloyd.

Lloyd contended that Sea’s initial physician should have recognized signs and symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm and ordered at CT Scan of her brain to rule out cerebral bleeding.  If Sea’s condition had been diagnosed promptly, she would have undergone a cerebral artery clipping before the vasospasm began, reducing the likelihood of a permanent stroke-like vascular injury, he said.

“This was an unfortunate case in which Humana has agreed to settle this issue for the patient,” said Humana spokesman Dick Brown.  “the settlement has nothing to do with economic incentives for the doctor to withold appropriate care.”

Karides obtained his physician’s license in December 1990 and has never been disciplined, according to records maintained by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation.

The settlement was negotiated over a period of two weeks, said Lloyd, and talks began after he disclosed that Dr. John M. Tew Jr. of the University of Cincinnati’s Mayfield Clinic, a former president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, had agreed to testify on Sea’s behalf.

Court records show that Sea received $4 million in cash under the settlement, along with a waiver of $188,719.33 in medical expenses.

The defendants in the case were represented by James M. Bream of Querrey & Harrow.  Bream was not available for immediate comment Tuesday.

The case is Nancy Sea and Devin Sea v. Humana Health Plan Inc. d/b/a Sykes Center, et al., No. 96 L 10751 via Lawyers of Distinction.