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A Philadelphia jury on Friday awarded $4 million to the family of a 36-year-old mother of three who died 17 days after knee surgery due to a blood clot that an expert said could have been prevented with blood-thinning medication.



The jury’s medical malpractice award went to the family of Sirandou Korkosse in Keita v. Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia.



According to court papers, emergency room X-rays showed in December 2000 that Korkosse had fractured her left kneecap. The next day, Korkosse was placed in a knee immobilizer and admitted to Mercy Hospital, and one day later Dr. Menachem Meller performed an operation on the knee and placed Korkosse in a long leg cast. Before she was discharged from the hospital, Korkosse was given a single dose of heparin, an anti-coagulant used to prevent the development of blood clots, according to court papers.



But the family’s lawyer, Aaron J. Friewald of Layser & Friewald, said Korkosse was sent home without any prescriptions or instructions to continue taking anti-coagulation medicine.



Korkosse visited Meller in his office about one week after her discharge and complained of pain in her left leg, according to court papers.



But Friewald told the jury that Meller ignored the warning signs of a possible blood clot and did not even remove the cast or examine her leg.



Two days after that doctor visit, Korkosse was taken by ambulance to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she stopped breathing, according to court papers.An autopsy later revealed “thrombo-emboli in both main branches of the pulmonary artery and thrombus formation in the deep vein,” according to court papers.



Friewald argued in court papers that Meller was negligent “for failing to order deep venous thrombosis prophylaxis” — in other words, failing to take steps to prevent the formation of a potentially deadly blood clot.



Those steps should have been taken, Friewald told the jury, because Korkosse suffered from multiple risk factors, including being overweight and forced to be sedentary after the operation.



Meller’s lawyer, Paul A. Bechtel Jr. of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, argued that Meller’s care of Korkosse followed the standard of care that any competent orthopedic surgeon in his position would have followed.



Bechtel said Korkosse did not fall into any of the standard risk categories for surgery patients who must be monitored for blood clots.Experts, Bechtel told the jury in his opening statement, would explain that the true risk cases are those in which patients have a hip replacement, a knee replacement, serious fractures, or operations on both legs that leave a patient immobilized, according to court transcripts.



Korkosse’s operation, Bechtel said, involved the repair of a “tiny chip of bone” on her kneecap.



“There is not one article, not one documentation, that a healthy, 36-year-old woman such as Mrs. Korkosse has died from a pulmonary embolism as a result of this surgery,” Bechtel told the jury.



Bechtel said one defense expert would describe the risk Korkosse suffered as being so rare that it compared to being hit by lightning.But Friewald told the jury that the defense experts would be talking about textbooks, and that his expert would focus directly on how Korkosse was treated.



“You’re going to be left having to decide whether you treat a textbook or whether you treat a patient, and what the standard of care for an orthopedic doctor like Dr. Meller was at this time, knowing that a patient is at risk and failing to do the very easy thing there is to do to prevent this life-threatening complication,” Friewald said in his opening statement, according to court transcripts.In its verdict, the jury awarded $3 million on a wrongful death claim to Korkosse’s widower, Abdul Keita, and her three children, ages 14, 11 and 5. The jury also awarded $1 million on a survival action designed to compensate Korkosse for her suffering.



Friewald said the 12-member jury began hearing the case on Wednesday and returned its verdict Friday afternoon.



Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge John Milton Younge presided over the three-day trial.



Bechtel could not be reached for comment after the verdict.

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