- A jury in Iowa awarded 53-year-old Joseph Dudley $27 million in damages after an emergency department misdiagnosed a serious meningitis infection.
- In February 2017, UnityPoint Point’s emergency room in Des Moines diagnosed Dudley with the flu, even though his flu test came back negative, and sent him home.
- After Dudley’s condition did not improve for a few days, his wife rushed him to the emergency room. There he was diagnosed with acute meningitis and placed in a medically induced coma.
DES MOINES, Iowa — A Des Moines man has been awarded $27 million in damages after a local emergency room failed to diagnose him with a severe meningitis infection that ultimately resulted in permanent brain damage.
Now 53-year-old Joseph Dudley continues to struggle with the physical and mental limitations following his 2017 illness, which his wife says is affecting his ability to take an active role in the lives of his young children.
But when he first arrived at a UnityPoint Point emergency clinic with symptoms in February 2017, he was diagnosed with the flu and sent home.
On Monday, the Polk County jury ruled that the resident physician who oversaw the clinic at the time, Melanie Choos, was negligent in that decision, which directly harmed Dudley.
“This is a fair and just ruling for a man with severe, permanent brain damage and who is one of tens of thousands of medical malpractice victims who have cases pending in this country,” said Nick Rowley, an attorney representing Dudley and his wife. , Sarah.
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UnityPoint Health officials declined to comment on details of the case, but said Monday they believe the clinic met established standards of care. UnityPoint Health’s attorneys also argued at trial that the treatment Dudley received at the clinic met the standard of care based on the symptoms he presented when he arrived.
“We respect the jury process, but strongly disagree with this verdict and are exploring all options, including an appeal. We support our healthcare providers and clinicians as they make important medical decisions every day,” health system officials said in a statement Monday. “UnityPoint Clinic remains committed to providing compassionate, personalized care and meeting the highest standards of clinical quality and patient safety.”
Flu test was negative, but Dudley was diagnosed anyway
In February 2017, Joseph Dudley returned home complaining of fatigue and dizziness. He also developed a fever that got worse over time until his wife took him to an emergency room in Des Moines a few hours later. By the time they arrived after 7 p.m., his fever was over 103 degrees.
By this time, Joseph Dudley had begun to become delusional, behaving erratically and belligerently while staff attempted a nasal test.
Sarah Dudley said when the resident physician came into the room to conduct the exam, she asked what illegal drugs her husband was taking and if he backed off. Sarah Dudley said he doesn’t do drugs and she felt her husband was treated badly because he is black.
Choos diagnosed Joseph Dudley with the flu, although a flu test came back negative. She then sent him home with Tamiflu and with recommendations for Sarah Dudley to take him back to the clinic if symptoms didn’t improve within five to seven days.
“That was a death sentence for Joe,” Rowley said.
Joseph Dudley, who was unable to walk due to dizziness, had to be placed in a wheelchair to leave the clinic. A clinic worker helped Sarah Dudley load her husband into care using a treadmill, she said.
“I had faith in them, I believed them,” Sarah Dudley told Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, after the jury verdict. “I would never think that we would be treated like this in an emergency room.”
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According to Rowley, Choos was the only provider of staff and had no doctor on site to supervise, ultimately leading to “sloppy, substandard medical care”.
“Physician assistants should not be running clinics on their own without a supervising physician,” Rowley said. “That shouldn’t be happening in Iowa, but it’s happening in Iowa and people are getting hurt and people are dying because of it.”
Joseph Dudley’s condition did not improve and a few days later on February 20, 2017, Sarah Dudley took him to the emergency room at UnityPoint Iowa Methodist Medical Center. There he was diagnosed with acute meningitis and placed in a medically induced coma.
He spent eight days in intensive care and was later transferred to the inpatient unit, where he remained until discharged on March 28, 2017.
Doctors later found that he had suffered three strokes as a result of his infection. Joseph Dudley has permanently lost hearing in his right ear and has suffered nerve damage in his right leg that prevents him from walking in a straight line. He also has mood swings and deals with paranoia, Sarah Dudley said.
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It took six months for him to learn to walk again, first with a walker and then with a cane. He also underwent speech therapy for weeks and had to relearn how to feed and bathe himself, Sarah Dudley said.
His physical condition has improved, but he still can’t do some things, such as skating with his 6-year-old daughter. Sarah Dudley said it’s a challenge for their daughter to understand why her dad can’t always do things with her.
“Every day of Joe’s life will be affected by the severe brain damage he has,” she said.
Still, Sarah Dudley said they are happy with the verdict. The jury awarded the couple $12 million for future loss of entire mind and body, and $10 million for future pain and suffering based on his life expectancy.
It also awarded them $2.5 million for past mind and body loss, and $2.5 million for past pain and suffering.
Follow Michaela Ramm on Twitter at @Michaela_Ramm.