The family of a late St. Helena resident has sued St. Helena Hospital for negligence, wrongful death and medical malpractice.
The lawsuit, filed in September in the Napa County Superior Court, states that Rosemarie McMahon, 68, began experiencing shortness of breath in 2017 and was diagnosed with aortic insufficiency, which means the heart’s aortic valve doesn’t completely close.
“It’s kind of an emotional thing for me because it’s my mom and she was really healthy,” said daughter and plaintiff Kaele McMahon-Varrelman. “She was really healthy ... not at all near her death.”
McMahon was a longtime middle school teacher in St. Helena who loved her students, McMahon-Varrelman said. She was selfless and full of life.
The hospital denied all of the family’s allegations, court documents show. St. Helena Hospital declined to comment during active litigation, but said patient safety is its top concern, according to a statement provided by spokesperson Jill Kinney.
“In the rare case where an outcome is unexpected we seek to learn from it and improve processes whenever possible,” the statement read.
McMahon was eager to receive surgery to relieve her symptoms and was admitted to St. Helena Hospital for a routine aortic valve replacement, according to the lawsuit.
McMahon’s husband, Mel Varrelman, a former Napa County supervisor, and her daughter were very concerned about the way the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit handled her aftercare, the suit states.
McMahon’s nurse, who had practiced for two months since graduating, said things that troubled McMahon’s family, such as “How low is too low for the blood pressure?,” according to the lawsuit.
Her family noticed McMahon began making an unusual breathing noise and brought this to her nurse’s attention. Her nurse said she was probably snoring and her family unsuccessfully tried to get McMahon a more qualified nurse from that point on, according to the lawsuit.
The hospital’s policies dictate that chest tubes should be checked every four hours, according to the lawsuit. McMahon’s family learned there was a kink in her chest tube, which caused her to lose a total of 900 ml of blood. It would have been discovered sooner had the hospital followed that policy, according to the lawsuit.
McMahon’s nurse informed the family of the malfunctioning chest tube and said, “So glad you weren’t there … there was blood everywhere!,” according to the lawsuit.
McMahon had to receive new blood due to her blood loss, but the hospital administered three 400- to 500-ml packets of type A- blood instead of McMahon’s type, O- blood, according to the lawsuit.
Her final words were “Did I almost die?,” according to the lawsuit.
The hospital told McMahon’s family that they would have to conduct a surgery to remove the A- blood, but assured them that she would be fine, according to the lawsuit.
Doctors discovered during surgery that McMahon had a mediastinal hemorrhage and tamponade, which meant substantial bleeding in the cavity between the heart and chest, according to the lawsuit. The surgeon removed 700 to 800 ml of blood and the blood clot.
Her family was told after the surgery that McMahon had received a medicine that she was allergic to — despite the fact that her allergies were listed on her admissions paperwork and the wall of her hospital room, according to the lawsuit.
On Sept. 8, 2017, McMahon received a CT scan that revealed a subdural hemorrhage, or internal bleeding in the head. The hospital told her family that they did not have a neurosurgeon but felt she needed to see one, so it arranged for her to be sent to Washington Hospital in Fremont, according to the lawsuit.
Washington Hospital doctors told McMahon’s family that the subdural hemorrhage was insignificant, but her body was reacting to sepsis and multiple organ failure from the blood loss and chest tube kink, according to the lawsuit. Doctors estimated McMahon lost about 60 percent of her blood.
The hospital performed 48 hours of dialysis — a life-saving treatment usually reserved for patients with end-stage kidney disease who need their blood to cleaned — but could not save McMahon, according to the lawsuit.
She died on Sept. 22, 2017 about a month before her 69th birthday, due to organ failure, septic shock and coagulopathy, a condition in which a person’s blood cannot form clots, according to the lawsuit. She was laid to rest at Valley Memorial Park cemetery in Novato.
McMahon’s husband and daughter are seeking an unspecified amount of money in damages, and money to cover costs incurred as a result of the lawsuit. Adventist Health, which owns and operates the hospital, is also named in the lawsuit.
Attorney Lindsay Burton of BB Law Group said the family’s priority is shining a light on McMahon’s experience and did not have a particular dollar figure in mind.
The hospital’s attorneys wrote that it should be shielded by laws that prevent health care providers from being held liable when a patient dies as a result of their ailment, another physician’s care and more.
The next court date is March 6. Attorneys will head into a case management conference when both sides will meet before a judge and discuss how they would like to proceed.