ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In a stroke getting the right care quickly can mean the difference between a full recovery and permanent disability.
Members of a Tampa Bay area family say they got their loved one to the hospital at the first sign of a stroke, but what they say happened while he was in their care now has them speaking out.
“In ‘92, my dad sailed with his brothers from Cuba on a raft to try to provide for us,” said Marcos Gil, describing his father Pedro.
He says his father loved his adopted country, his family and fishing.
“He would take anybody fishing just to make them have a smile on their face,” said Marco's brother Pedro Gil, Jr.
Pedro has four adult sons, who describe him as the strongest man they knew.
But they say he is now a different person.
“He has the thinking ability of a two-year-old,” Marcos said.
"There were serious things that were done wrong"
“There were serious things that were done wrong in this case that should never, ever have happened,” said Attorney Scott Whitley, who is representing the Gil family in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The complaint, filed in December, alleges delays in treatment caused Pedro’s irreparable brain damage.
Pedro’s life changed forever on August 20, 2019.
“My mom walked in and found my dad on the floor. He rolled out of bed and his face was drooping,” Marcos said.
He recalls that she called 9-1-1 and an ambulance rushed Pedro to Bayfront Health Spring Hill, a few miles from his Hernando County home.
Doctors there gave him a clot-busting medication and then transferred him to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
“They have a Glasgow coma score. And that is a neurological kind of like a scale, where you’re at,” Marcos explained.
The scale, used in trauma care, ranges from a high of 15, meaning the patient is completely alert, to a low of 3, which means the patient is completely unresponsive.
At 9 p.m. that night, according to medical records, Pedro scored 15.
“He was doing 100%. Almost everything was 100%. Slight slur in the speech. We were excited. We were out of the woods,” Marcos said.
Late that night, doctors performed a procedure to clear a clot from an artery in his neck.
The next day records show that he had a headache, slurred speech and his face drooped. A doctor ordered a CT scan at 2 p.m. to be done “STAT” from the Latin word “statum” meaning immediately.
But the lawsuit alleges that didn’t happen.
State inspectors: CT scan not read for 6 hours, 35 minutes
According to a report from Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration, or AHCA, Bayfront’s policy says “all in-patient STAT orders will be performed, on average, within 45 minutes of the order”.
The state report says Pedro’s scan was done at 3:07 p.m., one hour and seven minutes after it was first requested.
The hospital’s policy requires “thirty minute or less turnaround time for all image interpretations requested on a STAT or immediate basis.” According to the state report, Pedro’s scan wasn’t read until 8:35 p.m. that night, six hours, 35 minutes after it was ordered.
“In laymen's terms, the state indicated they screwed up,” said Whitley, the family attorney. “If somebody had been paying attention here, this wouldn’t have happened. Especially if they have listened because there were repeated communications to please find the result.”
Bayfront St. Petersburg Hospital was sold in October. A spokesperson for the previous owner, Community Health Systems of Franklin, TN, said in an email to the I-Team that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
But in a court filing, Bayfront Hospital denied the allegation saying, “any loss, injury, or damage suffered by Plaintiff was inevitable as part of Plaintiff’s natural and unpreventable deteriorating condition.”
No news isn’t always good news
While they were waiting, the Gils say Pedro’s nurse told them not to worry.
“He kept assuring us when they check, the radiology team would have found something, they would have let us know," Marcos said. "So no news is good news.”
The lawsuit alleges that during that time, Pedro’s condition continued to deteriorate.
“It’s not a good sign at all and it’s very consistent with having the pressure build up inside of his head,” Whitley said.
“We went more than 30 times up to the front desk begging them to read his results,” Pedro Gil, Jr. said.
Eventually, family members said they threatened to transfer Pedro to another hospital.
The family says a doctor finally arrived and informed them Pedro’s CT scan ordered 6 hours, 35 minutes before it was read showed significant swelling causing his brain to shift inside his skull.
"By that time, his brain had herniated. He's catastrophically injured."
"Listen, your dad’s going to die any moment. He has 8 millimeters of midline shift,” Marcos recalled the doctor telling him.
According to the complaint, it was hours later that a different doctor performed surgery to remove part of Pedro’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.
“They rushed him into surgery, but they didn’t get him into surgery until 5 o’clock the following morning. And by that time, his brain had herniated. He was catastrophically injured” Whitley said.
After the surgery, Marcos said doctors warned his father would likely be in a permanent vegetative state and urged the family to consider removing life support.
“All these checks and balances to keep the situation from happening happened. And then they want us to unplug him,” Marcos said.
Instead, the Gils arranged to transfer him to another hospital before they brought him home.
“They broke our hearts”
Family members believe that if the medical staff had read the CT scan and taken action sooner, Pedro might have returned to a normal life.
“No one could ever say exactly how well he would recover, but the fact that they robbed us of that opportunity and put us in a worse position than when we started, is something that they should own up to,” said Marcos.
“He was going to have some deficits, but he has absolutely zero quality of life right now. And it’s really a sad tragic case,” Whitley said.
State inspectors cited violations including failing “to document notification of the imaging results to the registered nurse and ordering physician” and no evidence that “the delay was investigated and corrective actions put in place.”
“I hope they start paying attention and they start listening to their patients and start listening when someone is voicing concerns about a patient that they’re responsible for," Whitley said.
Pedro’s sons have taken turns caring for their dad. He can’t talk, walk, feed himself or go to the bathroom by himself.
“We’re all suffering. We’re all having to change our lifestyles for a mistake that they caused,” said Marcos.
Since his stroke, Pedro has been in and out of nursing homes.
His family hopes to one day be able to bring him home for good. But his sons say they will never get what they really want.
“We want him back. We can’t have him back. There’s nothing that’s going to give us him back," Pedro Gil, Jr. said. "That day they killed our family. They broke our hearts.”
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