When treating patients, medical professionals typically cannot know ahead of time how individuals will respond to a treatment or drug. But if there are known serious risks with a certain drug, physicians need to warn patients about those risks and be fully ready to respond to them if they occur – no matter how small the risks may be. Any delay in emergency treatment can be highly damaging or even fatal.

An apt but tragic example of this comes from a recent medical malpractice lawsuit here in Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, the jury awarded plaintiffs $10.83 million in damages after finding the hospital and a physician to be entirely liable for the patient’s devastating injuries.

According to news reports, the victim was 41 years old in 2016 when he went into the hospital for a routine MRI to help assess some back pain he had been experiencing. As is common in MRI procedures, he was injected with a chemical to increase the contrast in MRI images. In this case, the chemical was an element known as gadolinium.

The patient turned out to be allergic to gadolinium and suffered a nearly immediate reaction. He went into cardiac arrest, and because of delays in treatment, he suffered serious brain damage. The man now has “the mental acuity of a young child,” according to news reports. He requires around-the-clock care and monitoring and will for the rest of his life.

According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case, the MRI technologist recognized that the patient was having an allergic reaction but could not address it immediately for two reasons. First, there was no emergency drug box (containing anti-allergy medicine epinephrine) in the MRI room. Second, there was no immediately accessible alarm. The technologist had to go into the room’s control center to sound the alarm, then yelled for help in the hallway.

The supervising radiologist responded, then went to get the ER medical director, who didn’t recognize the alarm that we was hearing. Eventually, the man was treated, but it was too late to prevent devastating brain damage.

Most patients either experience no adverse effects or only mild side effects to gadolinium, but it’s not always possible to know how a patient will react ahead of time (because chemicals like this are not otherwise commonly used). But medical professionals know or should know that some patients can experience severe allergic reactions, and they need to be prepared to immediately address reactions with epinephrine and other medical interventions.

Check back in our next post as we continue the discussion.