Kaiser Pulled Plug on Woman With Lung Cancer, Husband Claims
6-6-2016 23:05:00

     SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A woman died from complications of stage four lung cancer because Kaiser did not diagnose her in time for treatment, and removed her breathing tube without her husband’s authorization, he claims in Orange County Superior Court.

            Demetre Economides sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, University of California-Irvine Medical Center, its Board of Regents, and several doctors on Tuesday, April 26.

            His wife, Stephanie, was 70 years old when she died from stage four lung cancer Jan. 27, 2015. 

            About five years earlier, Economides says, Stephanie started experiencing several “disturbing symptoms,” such as coughing constantly, wheezing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, a swollen lymph node, and fatigue – all classic early symptoms of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

            Stephanie asked her primary care doctor, Jeff David Tracy, to do a CT scan of her chest, but he ordered an x-ray instead and determined it was normal, the complaint states.

            But Stephanie’s symptoms worsened, and a year and a half later she scheduled another appointment with Tracy, who diagnosed her with pneumonia. Though another chest x-ray showed dense masses, Tracy concluded there was “no real change” between the two, according to the complaint.

            “These opinions by a non-specialist, HMO primary care physician set in motion a continued course of events that led to decedent’s death,” the complaint states.

            Though Stephanie’s condition deteriorated over the following years, Tracy kept insisting she had a bad case of pneumonia and prescribed her medication to treat it despite the fact it was not working, which Economides says is “deeply troubling.”

            Several of the reports written by Tracy and other doctors who viewed Stephanie’s x-rays referred to the pneumonia as recent despite the diagnosis dating back to 2012 and recommended an additional series of x-rays, as well as the long sought-after CT scan, according to the complaint.

            But Economides says it was too little, too late: the CT scan revealed that Stephanie had stage four lung cancer. 

            Stephanie was referred to the medical team at U.C. Irvine, but Economides claims the doctors there were just as incompetent at treating her as the Kaiser doctors. Among other things, they did not properly insert a tube to drain her lung and she developed several serious infections, which were not cleared up when she was discharged, the complaint states.

            By the time the doctors finally performed a biopsy on her tumor, Economides says, Stephanie was so sick that a new therapy that could have prolonged her life would not work. She died in January 2015 from lung cancer, complications related to septic shock – and the removal of her breathing tube, which Economides did not authorize, the complaint states.

            He says he found another facility that would care for Stephanie and give her additional treatment, but the defendants ran roughshod over his power of attorney and proceeded with the terminal extubation though he was not at her bedside. [63-67]

            “This cruel culmination to this entire sequence of events is perhaps the worse imaginable outcome for a husband who was trying desperately to save his wife’s life or to extend it, or at a minimum, to at least be present when his wife eventually passed away,” the complaint states.

            Economides seeks general, special, exemplary and punitive damages for medical malpractice, wrongful death, elder abuse, loss of consortium, medical battery, and lack of informed consent.

            He also wants compensatory damages for medical and funeral expenses, as well as court costs and fees.

            He is represented by Andrew C. Schuh with Layfield & Barrett of Irvine