When August de los Reyes walked into Overlake Hospital Medical Center’s emergency room four times over two weeks, he did all the right things. He repeatedly told doctors about his degenerative spine condition and his worry that a recent fall had fractured his spine.
He sounded the emergency alarm, but the hospital didn’t listen.
Through a series of communication errors between the physicians treating him, August was left permanently paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.
We advocated for August, using the justice system to reach a $20 million settlement with the hospital – but our exceptional client also wanted more than a financial remedy.
He wanted to use his renowned design background, as the former head of Microsoft’s Xbox design, to help analyze and improve the hospital’s safety practices. He sought to use his experience to decrease medical errors and improve provider communication, to make care safer for other patients.
As part of August’s settlement, we opened the doors to a working partnership between August and Overlake Hospital Medical Center executives – a rare move that represents a new paradigm in holding health care providers accountable for errors and improving patient safety.
August’s medical journey
After an accidental fall at home in 2013, August visited the hospital four times over two weeks, insisting that his back pain was due to a spinal fracture. The son of a physician, he knew a lot about his medical history – particularly his ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a condition that causes bones to become brittle and break easily.
Although August repeatedly told doctors he suspected a spinal fracture, he was sent home each time. A missed paperwork handoff between an admitting ER doctor and the hospital team during his first visit set the stage for his ongoing misdiagnosis.
The admitting doctor suspected that August had a spinal fracture – but didn’t record his notes in the medical record until five days after the first ER visit. The critical information needed to protect August wasn’t shared with other care team members in time.
On August’s fourth visit, clinicians finally paid attention when he reported extreme pain and tingling around his waist and upper legs. Tragically, it was too late.
While positioning him for the final MRI, August’s spinal fracture worsened and he was permanently paralyzed, leading to multiple surgeries and ongoing treatment.
Settlement leading to a better understanding
It’s extremely unfortunate when individual errors become systemic and catastrophic failures. Miscommunication between doctors can lead to enormous human costs and grave consequences. August realized that to prevent others from suffering the same fate, he needed to address the underlying system.
As part of his settlement agreement, August requested that hospital executives partner with him to address the system as a “design problem” – analyze exactly what had happened, devise a plan for reform, and implement systemic changes that would prevent a repeat.
Following the settlement, August has met with hospital leaders and he will also serve as an ongoing participant in Overlake’s patient safety initiatives, and on its Patient Family Advisory Council.
By coupling his tireless resolve with a broader vision of transparency and a willingness to work across the table, August is helping to reform patient safety and ensure that no one has to endure what he experienced.
The provider miscues and miscommunication that led to August’s injury are tragically common. This year, Johns Hopkins researchers estimated that more than 250,000 people die due to medical errors each year – making it the third leading cause of death nationwide.
Sadly, this figure could actually be much higher. As NPR writes, “the coding system used by CDC to record death certificate data doesn’t capture things like communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors and poor judgments that cost lives.”
At Luvera Law Firm, we use our expertise and cases to help create positive industry change whenever possible. We wanted to capture this opportunity to shine a light on patient safety and broad medical industry issues to ensure they weren’t swept under the rug.
We are proud of August for taking this mission on himself, and we know that his energy and the dynamic approach he brings to every challenge will help to create lasting change.
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We are here to help if you or a family member has been personally affected by a medical malpractice incident or serious injury, or if you have another legal issue you would like to discuss. You can reach us by phone: (206) 467-6090, or through our contact page.