Decatur, GA—A medical malpractice trial arising out of the heart attack death of a 29-year-old man while playing league soccer ended when DeKalb State Court Judge Dax Lopez declared a mistrial at the conclusion of Plaintiff’s case. Chinh Truong v. Steven Rosenthal MD and Georgia Heart Associates, PC (14A50672).
According to testimony and documents in the case, Antony Southammavong visited Dr. Rosenthal, a cardiologist, in 2011, complaining of chest pain and various other symptoms. Dr. Rosenthal subsequently conducted a cardiac stress test on Southammavong and informed the patient on July 15, 2011, that his heart was normal and he could resume his usual activities, including playing soccer. Six days later, while his girfriend Chinh Truong and two of his children were watching, Southammavong collapsed on the sidelines during a soccer match and died. She subsequently filed the current lawsuit on behalf of Southammavong’s children against Dr. Rosenthal and his practice.
During the trial, plaintiff’s final witness was Southammavong’s father, who became quite emotional during his testimony. At one point during that testimony, he stated that, shortly before Southammavong’s death, he told his father that he planned to become a truck driver and that he was concerned because he had no money to take care of his family. Before the defense began presenting its case, Judge Lopez granted the defense’s motion for a mistrial on the basis of the improper testimony regarding the family’s financial condition.
Earlier in the trial, Plaintiff’s expert witness, Dr. Michael Rothkopf, a Texas cardiologist, explained the stress test Dr. Rosenthal performed. Dr. Rothkopf stated that the purpose of the stress test is to measure changes in a patient’s EKG when exercising on a treadmill. If a patient has blockage in the arteries, the EKG will begin to change as the patient exercises. In addition, the stress test includes a stress echocardiogram, which is a picture of the heart. The physician takes both an EKG and an echocardiogram before the patient begins exercising and then measures the changes after the patient finishes. For most patients, the test lasts 6-10 minutes until the patient gets tired or reports problems. However, Southammavong remained on the treadmill for over 13 minutes.
Dr. Rothkopf noted several abnormalities in Southammavong’s stress test. According to Dr. Rothkopf, the EKG showed an elevated S-T reading in some places. He stated that this type of EKG reading is extremely rare and almost always indicates the presence of blocked arteries. Dr. Rothkopf also stated that the echiocardiogram revealed the presence of a wall motion abnormality, a condition in which part of the heart expands while the rest contracts. That, too, is an indication of an artery blockage.
In Dr. Rothkopf’s opinion, Southammavong’s stress test results, when taken in conjunction with his reported symptoms, his extremely high cholesterol level, his history of smoking, and the heart palpitations that occurred during the stress test indicated the strong possibility of coronary artery disease.
Dr. Rothkopf believed that further testing of Southammavong was needed. “If you have a blocked artery that’s causing this, and you keep exercising and don’t stop, it can degenerate into what’s called ventricular fibrillation, meaning this can be a forerunner of a rhythm that causes sudden death. … When [Southammavong] suddenly collapsed, he was in ventricular fibrillation… in all medical probability the cause of death was that his heart went out of rhythm.”
Dr. Rothkopf continued, “This suggests because he was exercising and pushing himself, we saw this in the doctor’s office… all [the abnormal findings on the stress test] conspire to say that Antony is at risk for possibly a heart attack, possibly a fatal event like this. I mean no one can predict these things, no one’s God, but based on what we see here we would definitely not say ‘Antony this is a normal test and you should just go ahead and do all your normal activities.’ That would not be the right thing.”
When asked by plaintiff’s attorney John Mabrey what Dr. Rosenthal should have done, based on the test results, Dr. Rothkopf answered that Southammavong should have been admitted to a hospital for a catheterization to determine the extent of the problem. Based on the results of Southammavong’s autopsy, Dr. Rothkopf believed the catherization would have revealed that the patient had coronary artery disease, and further, that there was at least a 95% probability that the disease could have been successfully treated by either a stent or a bypass. Dr. Rothkopf concluded that had Southammavong been properly diagnosed and treated, his death would have been avoidable.
Under cross examination by defense attorney M. Scott Bailey, Dr. Rothkopf acknowledged that, using the Duke Treadmill Test, a common measure of stress test results, Southammavong’s readings only indicated a possibly dangerous condition, and, further, that other readings, such as the patient’s heartbeat and blood pressure, appeared normal. He also acknowledged that he knew the details of Southammavong’s death when he first examined the stress test results.
After the trial, Courtroom View Network spoke to plaintiff’s attorney S.K. Rod Dixon who called the mistrial “unfortunate.” However, Dixon expressed his intent to move ahead and retry the case in the near future. Representatives of the Defense were unavailable for comment prior to the publication of this article.
CVN will report on a retrial of this case if it should occur. Steve Silver can be contacted at [email protected].
Attorneys involved in the case include S. K. Rod Dixon of the Dixon Firm and John Mabrey of the Mabrey Firm, both of Atlanta, for the plaintiffs and M. Scott Bailey of Atlanta's Huff Powell Bailey for the defense.
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