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Lawsuit settled in death after routine procedure at St. Mary's Hospital

Lawsuit settled in death after routine procedure at St. Mary's Hospital


A lawsuit by the wife of a 37-year-old father of two who died at St. Mary’s Hospital after a routine procedure in 2013 has been settled.

The amount of the settlement, reached in June, is confidential. But the total is at least $3.75 million. That is because the state Injured Patients and Compensation Fund, which makes payments in medical malpractice cases only after a payment from a health care provider involved reaches at least $1 million, paid $2.75 million.

Travis Disch, of Monticello, suffered an irreversible brain injury from a lack of oxygen after undergoing an endoscopy, in which a tube was placed down his throat to determine the cause of swallowing problems.

Disch was under conscious sedation, in which drugs are given to relieve pain and anxiety but patients continue to breathe on their own. Some groups say an anesthesiologist or certified nurse anesthetist should be present during such procedures to monitor patients, but many places, including St. Mary’s, rely on nurses.

St. Mary’s spokeswoman Kim Sveum declined to say if the hospital has changed how it does conscious sedation or endoscopies. Last year, UW Hospital started requiring nurses who provide sedation during endoscopies to take a four-hour course in sedation, said Dr. Michael Lucey, chief of gastroenterology.

Nurses gave Disch more than double the dose of sedation drugs initially ordered, improperly monitored him and ignored warning signs of oxygen deprivation, the suit alleged.

An autopsy found no cause of death other than the brain injury. St. Mary’s said Disch’s vital signs were normal until the endoscopy ended, and altered heart cells found in the autopsy suggested his death arose from an unexpected, sudden cardiac event, according to court records.

Eric Farnsworth, the attorney who represented Donna Disch and her two minor daughters, said 21 minutes of Disch’s vital signs were missing from his medical records, the records said.

Attorneys for St. Mary’s said 14 minutes of data were missing but the information wasn’t intentionally destroyed or manipulated. When monitoring equipment was used for other patients, Disch’s data was copied over or erased, they said.

A state Department of Safety and Professional Services investigation into Dr. Jason Gonzaga, the Dean Clinic gastroenterologist who performed the endoscopy, was closed for insufficient evidence of any unprofessional conduct, said Eric Esser, deputy secretary of the department.

State investigations into nurses Jennifer Leatherberry and Dawn Timmerman, who were named in the lawsuit, are pending, said Jeff Weigand, assistant deputy secretary.

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