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Doctors Accused of Negligence Surrounding Florida Woman's Ectopic Pregnancy, as Trial Opens

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 7, 2019, 5:11:26 PM

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Tampa, FL-- Delays in reporting and treating a Florida woman’s ectopic pregnancy have left her without the ability to naturally conceive, an attorney for the woman told jurors, as trial opened Wednesday against the medical staff that cared for her. Santangelo-Santana v. Exodus Women’s Center, Inc., et al., 2015CA001646. 

Stacey Santangelo-Santana underwent surgery in September 2014 to treat an ectopic pregnancy, a non-viable pregnancy outside the uterus, which required the removal of her right fallopian tube. Because an earlier ectopic pregnancy had led to the removal of her left tube, the 2014 incident has left her unable to conceive children naturally. 

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On Wednesday, Santangelo-Santana’s attorney, Searcy Denney’s Edward Ricci, walked jurors through a timeline of alleged treatment delays by doctors at Exodus Women’s Center and Brandon Regional Hospital that he said cost Santangelo-Santana her fallopian tube. 

In August 2014, tests showed Santangelo-Santana was pregnant, but because imaging showed no fetus in her uterus, Exodus staff believed she suffered a miscarriage. Dr. Dawn Ericsson performed follow-up treatment on the miscarriage diagnosis, which included taking uterine tissue samples. Dr. Robert Ruffalo, a pathologist at Brandon Regional Hospital, flagged that sample as a potential ectopic pregnancy requiring urgent follow-up and entered the results in the hospital's electronic records system.

However, Ricci told jurors Ruffalo never called Exodus about the potentially catastrophic complication. “A reasonably careful pathologist doesn’t just fax [the report] in, doesn’t just leave it on the [electronic medical records system] for people to go find it,” he said, adding that a ruptured fallopian tube could have resulted in catastrophic bleeding. “When it’s life threatening and somebody’s life is on the line, you pick up the phone. And he didn’t do it.”

Ricci said Ericsson never checked the pathology report. And her colleague, Dr. Stephen Wagner, an Exodus doctor who examined Santangelo-Santana during a follow-up visit a week later, also failed to inquire about the report, which was not in her file. “It was his expectation that Dr. Ericsson would look at this pathology report with this critical, life-threatening condition that is screaming for treatment,” Ricci said. 

Those communication issues, Ricci noted, delayed Santangelo-Santana’s ectopic pregnancy treatment for nearly a month. “There was a horrifically long delay in treating this ectopic pregnancy,” Ricci said, adding that prompt reporting and treatment could have saved the tube. 

But Exodus argues its physicians were not notified of the findings in the way they expected. On Wednesday, LaCava & Jacobson’s Louis LaCava said standards of care required Ruffalo to directly alert the center’s doctors. “Some people will say [the notice] should be a phone call. Some people — some pathologists — say, ‘No, as long as it gets faxed over.’ The expectation is it would get there. The expectation was it would show up,” LaCava said.  “Ladies and gentlemen, it didn’t.”

But Ruffalo’s attorney, Hill Ward Henderson’s Ethen Shapiro counters that Ruffalo followed Brandon Regional’s policy in preparing the pathology report and entering it into the hospital’s electronic medical records system for physician access. “There’s no requirement in that policy for a phone call,” Shapiro said. “That’s not how medicine was working in 2014.”

Banker Lopez Gassler’s Tracy Falkowitz, representing Brandon Regional, agreed, and added that the hospital’s electronic record system worked as intended. “The system that Dr. Ruffalo used, and that all the providers at Brandon Regional Hospital used, that system worked,” Falkowitz said. “And that made Mrs. Santana’s medical records available and accessible to all of her providers.”

Trial is expected to last through next week. 

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com

Related Information

Stacey Santangelo-Santana is represented by Searcy-Denney’s Edward Ricci. 

Exodus Women’s Center Inc. is represented by LaCava & Jacobson’s Louis LaCava. 

Dr. Robert Ruffalo is represented by Hill Ward Henderson’s Ethen Shapiro. 

Brandon Regional Hospital is represented by Banker Lopez Gassler’s Tracy Falkowitz.  

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