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A Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury thwarted the claim of a nurse seeking $1.5 million in damages after she argued latex exposure during surgery left her permanently unable to work. In May 1997, Patricia Reithmeier, a nurse, was admitted to Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia for a laparoscopic appendectomy under the care of operating physician Dr. Alfred Bogucki. While in recovery, Reithmeier’s blood pressure dropped. Volume expansion and pressors were used in an attempt to return her blood pressure to normal. However, Reithmeier’s blood pressure continued to decrease. Bogucki decided to operate again and made an incision in her abdomen to search for internal bleeding, frequently the cause of a drop in blood pressure. This second surgery revealed an excessive amount of blood in her abdominal cavity and retroperitoneal space. In her complaint, the plaintiff claimed she suffered from a significantly increased latex sensitivity resulting from latex exposure during the first and second surgeries. This sensitivity hindered her ability to perform duties as a nurse. Ultimately, Reithmeier left her job. In Reithmeier’s complaint, she asserted that the negligence and carelessness of Bogucki’s employer, Bogucki, Surgical Associates of Delaware Valley Inc., and Frankford Hospital, where Reithmeier was treated, caused her personal injuries. Bogucki and Surgical Associates’ attorney Robert Fortin, of Monaghan & Gold in Elkins Park, Penn., argued that Reithmeier was not exposed to latex during either surgical procedure. The hospital’s circulating nurse, who assisted with both procedures, testified that she spoke with Reithmeier before the first procedure about Reithmeier’s latex sensitivity. The nurse said that all latex products were therefore removed from the operating room for both procedures. “The nurse was very empathetic throughout the entire trial that only latex-free products were used,” Fortin said. Thus, argued Fortin, Reithmeier did not come in contact with latex during her surgeries. Even if latex had been present, the material was not the cause of the drop in blood pressure, he asserted. The first procedure was laparoscopic and did not involve an open incision, making latex exposure highly unlikely, Fortin said. Further, said Fortin, Reithmeier’s symptoms were not fully consistent with a true latex allergic reaction. Symptoms of a true allergic reaction include a rash and respiratory distress in addition to a drop in blood pressure. Reithmeier did not display these additional symptoms. Fortin argued that Reithmeier’s decreased blood pressure likely resulted from internal bleeding, a reaction to the anesthetic or from pressure on blood vessels from carbon dioxide that inflates the abdomen during laproscopic surgery. Allergist/immunologist Dr. Frederick Cohen was an expert witness for the defendants. Cohen testified that Reithmeier did not have a true latex allergy but a latex sensitivity that predated the operation. Because Reithmeier was routinely exposed to latex during her career as a nurse, the sensitivity likely began years before her surgeries, he said. The nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated for nearly two-and-a-half days before returning a verdict in favor of the defendants. Ten jury members found for the defendants while the remaining two jurors sided with the plaintiff. Fortin believed the jury hinged its verdict on the fact that it recognized latex exposure during the surgeries was improbable. “The plaintiff’s approach was to interpret recordings on anesthesia records .� Even if the nurse had given latex … there could not have been latex contact during the first surgery. During the second surgery, even if there was latex contact, there was no drop in blood pressure,” Fortin said. He believes these factors determined the jury’s verdict. James E. Beasley Jr. of Beasley Casey & Erbstein represented Reithmeier. Calls to Beasley seeking comment on the verdict were not returned.

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