Gary Strickland, Administrator of the estate of Marion Drezek v. The Bristol Hospital Inc., et al.: The family of a woman who died unexpectedly at Bristol Hospital has been awarded more than $2.5 million by a jury after proving the hospital was responsible for her death.

Marion Drezek, 74, had a longstanding history of unexplained rectal bleeding, according to the family’s lawyer, Joseph McManus, of the McManus Law Offices in Grafton, Mass. McManus said the woman had colonoscopies and other tests but never found out exactly what was causing the problem.

After a night of bad bleeding and diarrhea, Drezek’s husband, David, drove her to see her primary care doctor on the morning of April 2, 2008. Since her symptoms were worsening — she developed shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat — her doctor told her to go to the emergency room right away. So the couple then drove to Bristol Hospital, arriving between 11 and 11:30 a.m.

McManus claims that the woman’s chief complaint to the emergency room staff was rectal bleeding and shortness of breath. She was placed in a room with constant cardio monitoring. McManus said that every so often David Drezek would have to go out in the hallway to get a nurse to check on his wife. The last time he did so he became angry, explained McManus.

By the time nurses again checked on Marion Drezek, she was unresponsive. She was not breathing, had no blood pressure and was losing color. Emergency room personnel rushed her into another room to begin resuscitation efforts. The efforts were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead.

David Drezek and hospital staff have conflicting versions of events that day at the hospital. Ultimately the jury believed Drezek. “Their experts said, ‘We don’t know why she died,’” said McManus. “It’s one of those times you just don’t know.”

McManus, however, believes the poor medical care Drezek received at the hospital is why she died, including the fact that the emergency room physician, Dr. Cliff Wagner, did not order any intravenous fluids for the woman who, the lawyer said, was clearly dehydrated from the blood loss and diarrhea. McManus said that a catheter placed in the bladder during resuscitation efforts revealed no urine at all, a sure sign of dehydration.

But McManus said Dr. Wagner feared the woman might be suffering from heart failure and excess fluid could have backed up in her heart and lungs. McManus said tests did not show any fluid in her heart or lungs, however. The hospital staff also said that maybe the catheter wasn’t put in right, explaining the lack of urine in the bladder.

An autopsy conducted a couple days later was inconclusive, according to McManus, which disappointed the family.

“There was no active site of bleeding in the intestines,” said McManus. “There was some dark material in the intestines but the pathologist couldn’t determine whether or not that was blood or decomposition from the body having sat there a couple days” before the autopsy.

It was also unclear whether the woman was suffering any rectal bleeds that day at the hospital but she also began vomiting blood at the hospital before becoming unresponsive. Medical records indicated “copious” amounts of blood, but at a deposition the doctor couldn’t estimate exactly how much. At trial, however, McManus said the doctor estimated it was just a cup and a half. McManus also questioned why the bloody vomit was never tested.

The attorney filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on the family’s behalf against Bristol Hospital and Dr. Wagner. There were never any settlement negotiations, according to McManus, and the case proceeded to trial in September in New Britain Superior Court before Judge Cynthia Swienton. Testimony took eight days.

Defending Dr. Wagner was Robert E. Kiley, of DanaherLagnese in Hartford. Kiley declined to discuss the case last week, but noted he was preparing post-trial motions. Bristol Hospital was defended by Albert “Chip” Danker Jr., of O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford. Danker did not return repeated calls for comment.

Several medical experts testified at the trial. McManus’ main expert was Dr. Peter Paige, an emergency room doctor from Worcester, Mass., who stated that Bristol Hospital and Dr. Wagner violated the standard of care owed Drezek when it failed to provide the woman with IV fluids.

A nurse from Springfield, Mass. testified for the hospital and two doctors from Connecticut were called as expert witnesses in Wagner’s defense. Those doctors essentially argued that there were not clear signs that Drezek was hypovolemic from low blood pressure due to blood loss, and thus there was no indication she needed fluids.

Dr. Wagner and nurses claim they checked on Drezek moments before she lost consciousness. McManus said that was untrue and pointed out that medical records indicate that David Drezek angrily confronted the nurses at 4:10 p.m., but resuscitation efforts did not occur until 4:25 p.m. The defendants argued that the times were just incorrectly entered into medical records.

“I think the jury had a hard time believing the defendants’ claims that the medical records didn’t mean what they said,” said McManus. “If everybody agrees this lady needs to be monitored, why the heck doesn’t anybody respond to her? Why does it take the husband to run out and track people down?”

The jury ultimately awarded $2.5 million in non-economic damages and $26,500 in economic damages. The jury found Dr. Wagner to be 60 percent at fault and Bristol Hospital 40 percent liable.

McManus said Marion Drezek was very close with her family. She left behind her husband, two adult daughters and a sister who lived in the same duplex with her. “The family’s pleased just to have closure,” said McManus. “Nothing made any sense to them from the day this woman died.”•