Modesto doctors to pay $5M after TB ruined girl's spine

kcarlson@modbee.comJuly 8, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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    E-mail: kcarlson@modbee.com

A Modesto clinic and local doctors have agreed to a $5 million legal settlement for a teenage girl who faces a lifetime of severe disability after failures to diagnose her with spinal tuberculosis.

Judge Roger Beauchesne could approve the settlement today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

The September 2011 lawsuit alleged that health care providers failed to diagnose or treat the young patient for months as the infection slowly destroyed her cervical spine. The girl collapsed from a ruptured vertebra in the neck in August 2010 and lost the use of her arms and legs.

According to her attorney, the 17-year-old girl will require 24-hour care and medical attention for the rest of her life.

Modesto attorney David Rancano filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ivette Garcia and her father, Vidal Garcia, against Sierra Health Center, Modesto Advanced Imaging Center, doctors Michael Brodie, Harish Porecha, Krupa Sharma and Douglas Tait, and nurse practitioner Larry Kilgore.

An attorney for Sierra Health Center on Tully Road said five of the seven original defendants agreed to bear a portion of the settlement. Most of the patients at the health center are covered by Medi-Cal.

Rancano charged in the lawsuit that spinal tuberculosis, or Pott's disease, is curable when diagnosed and treated, but doctors who examined the girl failed to recognize that she suffered from the disease.

He said the misdiagnosis should not have happened with the medical technology available in the United States and in a county not far from Bay Area university hospitals, which are among the best in the world.

Attorney Scott Ginns, representing the Sierra clinic, said Pott's disease is a rare condition.

"It's a very sad case, and my client felt the appropriate thing to do is reach an early settlement," Ginns said. "My client felt it was appropriate to put the money in the child's hands so she can get the medical care she will need in the future. We didn't want to have a long, drawn-out trial."

An administrator for Modesto Advanced Imaging referred a call from The Bee to Dr. Tait, a radiologist at the Coolidge Avenue center. Tait did not return the call Monday.

According to medical literature, a few thousand people who are infected with tuberculosis every year in the United States are threatened with additional complications when the bacterium spreads outside the lungs.

Pott's disease occurs when tuberculosis infects the spinal cord; older patients may come down with the condition after a previously treated infection is reactivated years later.

Nerve damage, paralysis

If there are delays in diagnosis and treatment, the disease causes compression of the spinal cord and deformities leading to nerve damage and paralysis. Garcia, who was once an active teen-ager, is able to feed herself and use a computer, but she can't walk and has limited functioning in her arms, said people familiar with the case.

Symptoms of the disease include back pain, fever, night sweats and weight loss, as well as numbness and tingling in the legs. Evidence from imaging, microbiology or other tests is used to diagnose the condition.

Once the leading cause of death in the United States, tuberculosis mostly was eliminated in the United States by the early 1960s but still is prevalent in developing nations. There were 10,500 reported cases in the United States in 2011 or 3.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Dr. John Walker, county public health officer, said five to 20 cases of tuberculosis are reported in Stanislaus County each year. None of the eight cases last year were people with TB outside the lungs. Nine of those with TB in 2007 and 2009 showed evidence the bacterium had infected areas outside the lungs.

The judge will consider a petition to approve the large settlement this morning. Ginns said he knew of no reasons why the settlement would not be approved.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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