WILKES-BARRE — By the time Dr. Jennifer Sidari arrived at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center complaining of bruising and headaches, there were no measures the staff could have taken to prevent her sudden death three days later, attorneys for the health care provider argued Wednesday.
Lawyers for the family of Sidari, 26, allege in a lawsuit against Geisinger, the doctor from West Pittston suffered while a blood clot in her brain went untreated and ultimately burst, grinding to a halt the life of a star medical student with the promise and potential to thrive in her field.
In his opening statements before a jury of six men and six women seated earlier Wednesday morning in Luzerne County Court, Geisinger attorney Joseph Farchione described the crossroads he said existed between the expectation of medicine and the reality of the situation.
The expectation, he said, is that patients who show up to the emergency department walk out of the hospital alive. But even with the best, most focused care, “bad things can happen,” Farchione said. “People do die.”
One of several lawyers retained by Geisinger to defend it in the medical malpractice suit, Farchione told jurors Geisinger’s health care providers “did the right thing” for Sidari, but there was little else that could have been done to save the life of the Wyoming Area High School and University of Scranton graduate.
In his opening remarks, Farchione alluded to the possibility Sidari had a febrille illness, which he said was a fever illness — likely bacterial — that caused chronic disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC).
The illness, in which proteins that control blood clotting become over-active, was like a match that ignited a forest fire, Farchione said.
“The match can go out, but the forest fire still continues,” Farchione said.
The Cleveland-based attorney also noted Sidari received a typhoid vaccine that was later recalled prior to trips she made to South Africa and Haiti, in which Sidari “picked up kids no one else would pick up.”
Sidari family attorney Matt Casey, during a nearly two-and-a-half hour opening statement, went on the offensive against Geisinger, describing an alleged “systemic breakdown” of staff in the hours and days leading up to Sidari’s death.
“There’s no other way to put it,” Casey said. “It was really poor medical care.”
Casey, of Philadelphia law firm Ross Feller Casey LLP, told jurors Sidari had been recruited by the defendants to join their pediatrics program at the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville. Casey showed jurors a letter from Geisinger that praised Sidari’s qualifications.
Sidari, who had recently graduated as a stand-out member of The Commonwealth Medical College’s charter class, was supposed to drive to the hospital to begin her professional career, but was instead taken there in an ambulance “with her brain twisting and her life ebbing away,” Casey said.
The young doctor arrived at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley emergency department in Plains Township just after 4 p.m. on May 26, 2013, 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, Casey said.
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, Casey alleged.
What started as a small blood clot worsened over the course of May 26 and May 27 while Sidari was seen by numerous Geisinger staff members who failed to recognize or take proper steps to combat her irregular symptoms, including one doctor who left the hospital early one evening to scout a venue for his daughter’s birthday, Casey said.
Dr. Juan Escobar acknowledged in a taped deposition he was allowed to leave for the day if his work was completed. He also stated he was never told to return to the hospital to see Sidari, or that she had neurological deficits that warranted his return.
“When (Geisinger’s lawyers) tell you there was nothing that could have been done for her, think about that birthday party place,” Casey said.
Escobar stated in the deposition he thought a colleague, Dr. Aneela Ali, was going to order a consultation with neurologists for Sidari. But Ali, in another taped deposition, said she didn’t know Escobar expected her to do it, further illustrating the confusion among staff members alleged by Casey.
Both Ali and Escobar are expected to take the stand during the trial, which could last several weeks.
Following opening remarks, Geisinger physician assistant Gloria Yablonsky-Pombo opened testimony. Part of the hospital’s neurological team on May 28, Yablonsky-Pombo testified there were indicators Sidari should have had head-imaging tests done far sooner than she did.
Judge Lesa S. Gelb dismissed jurors for the day with instructions to return at 9 a.m. Thursday when testimony is expected to resume.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL.