Medical malpractice trial in death of Dr. Jennifer Sidari to start next week

By Joe Dolinsky - | February 21st, 2016 6:40 pm

Whether the care provided to Dr. Jennifer Sidari in the days leading up to her sudden death was rendered in an appropriate fashion or was part of a systematic breakdown by staff of one of the region’s largest health care providers will be argued in a medical malpractice trial slated to begin next week in county court.

Sidari, 26, of West Pittston, died at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville over the 2013 Memorial Day weekend with what lawyers for her family allege was a correctable condition that went undiagnosed and untreated while Sidari languished in pain.

Geisinger contended proper care was provided to Sidari, while her family’s lawyers argued her death could have been avoided with “observance of some of the most basic and fundamental principles in medicine.”

An ‘incalculable loss’

A graduate of Wyoming Area High School and the University of Scranton, Sidari was a member of The Commonwealth Medical College’s charter class and among the first wave of locally trained students to receive a doctor of medicine degree in 2013 from the Scranton-based medical school.

Sidari, the oldest of three siblings, was set to begin residency training in pediatrics at Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville in July 2014. The flagship Geisinger hospital was where Sidari ultimately succumbed to massive brain damage and died in the early morning hours of May 29, less than three weeks after graduating from TCMC.

Short staffing and a series of neglectful errors led Sidari to die “tragically and needlessly,” cutting short the life of a promising young doctor with the potential to flourish in the medical field, according to a complaint filed in January 2014 against Geisinger.

“This was a preventable and incalculable loss both for the Sidari family and for this entire region,” attorney Matt Casey, a Scranton native and brother of Sen. Bob Casey, said in a statement.

“We look forward to a jury, once and for all, loudly and clearly rendering its verdict,” said Casey, of Ross Feller Casey LLP in Philadelphia.

A ‘wholly preventable death’

Sidari arrived at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley emergency department in Plains Township just after 4 p.m. Sunday, May 26, complaining of severe and recurring headaches that didn’t go away with the help of over-the-counter medications as well as bruising on her upper and lower body, according to the complaint.

A subsequent blood count analysis showed low levels of both red blood cells and platelets, a smaller part of the blood which helps it clot, the complaint says.

Sidari’s symptoms coupled with abnormal blood work should have raised red flags that prompted head-imaging studies and consultation with a neurologist, but neither immediately occurred, the complaint alleges.

What started as a small blood clot worsened over the course of May 26 and 27 while Sidari was seen by numerous Geisinger staff members who failed to recognize or take proper steps to combat her irregular symptoms, the complaint alleges. At least nine doctors and five physician’s assistants are named in the 46-page complaint.

A Geisinger spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment for this story.

It wasn’t until just before noon on May 28, nearly 44 hours since she arrived at the hospital, that a CT scan of Sidari’s head was performed, according to the complaint. By that point, Sidari was unable to answer questions due to her altered mental status and was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit around 4 p.m., the complaint says.

A second CT scan indicating declining mental health was performed at approximately 5:30 p.m., and a life flight transfer to Danville was arranged, the complaint says. However, the life flight was delayed due to an unspecified problem with the helicopter and Sidari was transferred over 50 miles away to Danville via ambulance, the complaint alleges.

Another CT scan upon arrival revealed the blood clot had inflicted “catastrophic damage” on the brain, causing a loss of blood to both hemispheres and “neurological devastation,” the complaint says.

Sidari fell into a coma and was placed on life support until her family was notified there was likely zero chance of recovery, the complaint alleges. She was pronounced dead at 4:37 a.m. Wednesday, May 29.

“Sidari’s physical condition was allowed to deteriorate over a period of hours and days, and she was caused to suffer catastrophic, permanent and fatal injuries to the nerves, vessels, tissues, muscles and vital organs of her body, including her brain, resulting in her wholly preventable death,” Casey wrote.

‘Timely and appropriate’ care

In response to the complaint, Geisinger lawyers said in a 2014 court filing that the care provided to Sidari was “in accordance with the accepted standard of medical care in the community.”

“The medical services provided to Jennifer Sidari M.D. were in all respects rendered in a timely and appropriate fashion,” the lawyers wrote.

Edward Zych, Geisinger Health System associate chief legal officer, later claimed Casey withheld information regarding treatment Sidari had received from her uncle, Dr. Jude Sidari, and from a North Carolina hospital she visited six weeks prior to being admitted at Geisinger.

Sidari also traveled to Africa and Haiti, where she dealt with sick children, the complaint alleges.

The trial, slated to begin Feb. 29 before Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb, is expected to last several weeks while featuring the testimony of potentially hundreds of witnesses, including experts from schools of medicine at Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

Sidari Times Leader file photo

By Joe Dolinsky

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL.