Toronto Physician Held Accountable for Patient’s Premature Death Due to Misdiagnosis

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Dr. Jeffery Handler, a seasoned emergency physician based in Toronto, has been held accountable for the premature passing of a 34-year-old mother, Elisha Shaw. Shaw sought assistance at a Brampton emergency room, manifesting severe pain, but was prematurely discharged before an entanglement in her lower intestines was diagnosed.

On the night of Nov. 16, 2015, Shaw sought help at Brampton Civic Hospital. In immense abdominal distress, she underwent several tests including a CT scan. Despite the persistent pain, she was discharged less than 12 hours later. She was instructed to schedule a consultation with her bariatric surgeon and given a prescription for her abdominal cramps.

Nonetheless, Shaw’s condition rapidly deteriorated and she passed away two weeks later on Nov. 25, 2015, at Humber River Hospital. In a recent ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Justice (JP) William Lemay stated that her untimely death could be traced back to the decision to discharge her prematurely, despite her severe pain.

Shaw’s ex-husband Merton Thompson and their four children were assigned a minimum of $493,000 in damages, plus additional compensation for loss of income and household contributions. These are still subject to future determination by the court.

When asked for a statement, the William Osler Health System, supervising Brampton Civic, extended their condolences but declared a respect for confidentiality and privacy, refraining from providing further comments.

According to Merton Thompson, Shaw was a pleasant individual who got along well with others. Recounting her history, she had undergone a gastric bypass in 2012, upon the consultation of her physicians, a procedure known to lead to intestinal mobility, causing entanglement in some cases.

Upon her arrival at Brampton Civic Hospital, Shaw was examined by Dr. Handler. After conducting routine tests including a CT scan to scrutinize the possibility of a bowel obstruction, he found no evidence of any complication. According to court records, Shaw’s pain remained unresolved and at times, she was seen crying aloud in agony.

Nursing staff noted Shaw in extreme pain, and despite these reports, Dr. Handler dismissed her the following morning, with instructions to consult her bariatric surgeon. The critical findings were discovered too late when a second review of her scan by a radiologist revealed an internal hernia. Despite communicating these results to Dr. Handler, Shaw was already discharged and no further action was taken.

The court determined that this oversight could have resulted in a life-saving surgery for Shaw. Unfortunately, her condition necessitated a return to the hospital the following morning, and despite efforts to correct the hernia, she passed away just over a week later.

The court found that Dr. Handler was negligent in the premature discharge of Shaw. Lawyers representing Dr. Handler have not commented on the case. Merton Thompson is now tasked with single-handedly caring and providing for their four children.

Medical malpractice accounts for a significant proportion of preventable deaths in Canada, third only to cancer and heart disease. Medical negligence lawsuits are uncommon and successful cases even rarer, due to their complex nature and demanding proof requirements.

Expert testimony is crucial in these cases, which often serve as a means to reinforce safe practices and minimize harm in the healthcare system. Justice Lemay addressed this complexity by hearing expert opinions from a range of professionals during Thompson’s case.

Ultimately, fostering an environment that encourages communication and constructive criticism in healthcare is deemed essential for delivering safer care and preventing future tragedies.

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