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Postoperative Respiratory Failure

Postoperative respiratory failure, according to Thoracic Surgery Clinics, is the most common perioperative – meaning the time period occurring during a surgery – cause of death in adult thoracic surgery patients. If you have suffered the loss of a loved one to complications following thoracic surgery which you feel could have been avoided, contact one of our Massachusetts-based medical malpractice attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP today, to see if you may have rounds for a wrongful death medical malpractice claim.

Postoperative respiratory refers to any of a number of various potential causes of respiratory failure immediately following a surgical procedure – which could occur in the literal moments following a surgery or in the period of recovery which occurs afterwards.

It is loosely defined as any malfunction within the body which results in the lungs being unable to transfer oxygen from the air and transfer it into the bloodstream, while removing carbon dioxide through exhalation. Either situation, where oxygen is too low or carbon dioxide levels are too high, is seriously dangerous and potentially life-threatening for the patient.

Physicians must exercise great precautionary efforts to prevent respiratory failure in patients who are at higher risk for it, which according to Lahey Clinic include:

  • Patients who underwent coronary artery bypass grafting, thoracic surgery or any various procedures to the head or neck
  • Patients who had an adverse reaction to anesthetic during their surgery
  • Patients who experienced a high-level spinal cord injury or some form of severe head trauma
  • Patients who suffer from chronic lung disease such as asthma or bronchitis
  • Patients who are chronic smokers or have a history of chronic smoking
  • Patients who are chronically obese

While some studies have indicated postoperative respiratory failure occurs in less than 5 percent of patients who experience thoracic surgery, the risk is apparent and very serious. The most common signs someone is experiencing postoperative respiratory failure is a shortness of breath, as well as headaches, disorientation and confusion as a result of the low oxygen levels and higher levels of carbon dioxide. The patient’s skin may also appear blue, or present with an abnormal heartbeat. They may also slip into a semi-conscious state.

Prevention and Liability

Preventing postoperative respiratory failure comes down to the vigilance of the hospital staff who is responsible for the patient. Medical staff should be well aware of the serious risk posed to certain patients, especially is any of the aforementioned conditions were present. They may require a ventilator to aid in their breathing for a short time while they are stabilized. Afterwards, a respiratory therapist should be utilized to remove any fluid from the lungs and assist with breathing exercises.

In the unfortunate cases where these measures aren’t taken, and a patient gets worse or even passes away, hospitals may be liable for additional medical costs required to save the patient or for a claim of wrongful death. While saving someone in the midst of postoperative respiratory failure is not an easy feat, preventing it from occurring in the first place is simply a matter of performing due diligence.

The professional medical malpractice attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP have over 50 years of experience advocating on behalf of our clients in Boston, Cambridge and throughout the Massachusetts area. We have the expertise to go against even the biggest hospitals and hold negligent doctors accountable for their mistakes. We will give you the best chance to receive financial compensation for your pain and suffering and to help pay your medical expenses and recoup money lost from being unable to work.

Call us for a free consultation to go over the details of your case today at 617.492.3000 or toll-free at 800.481.6199. We are available 24/7.

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