Neil Armstrong's family received $6 million in malpractice settlement
Excerpt: An Ohio hospital agreed to pay $6 million to Neil Armstrong’s surviving family members to settle allegations that medical malpractice after an emergency heart surgery caused the astronaut’s death, a report said. The New York Times first reported Tuesday about the secret settlement after the paper received an anonymous 93-page document related to Armstrong’s treatment and the legal case. The newspaper was able to confirm the documents were authentic using public records in Hamilton County Probate Court in Ohio.
Armstrong, the astronaut known for taking the first steps on the moon in 1969, died at the age of 82 on Aug. 25, 2012—two weeks after undergoing cardiac bypass surgery at Cincinnati’s Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital. At the time of his death, the family announced publicly that Armstrong had died from “complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.” Privately, Armstrong’s two sons, Mark and Rick Armstrong, accused the hospital of flawed postsurgical treatment that ultimately killed their father, launching a two-year-long legal battle between the family and the medical institution.
Armstrong underwent cardiac bypass surgery on Aug. 7, 2012. As a standard part of the procedure, doctors implanted temporary wires to help pace his heartbeat as he recovers, the Times reported. “But when a nurse removed those wires, Mr. Armstrong began to bleed internally and his blood pressure dropped.” Doctors took Armstrong to a catheterization lab to drain blood from around his heart instead of immediately bringing him into the operating room, a decision ruled by medical professionals hired by both the Armstrong family and the hospital to investigate the death concluded ultimately killed him.
[As friends know, I have had a cardiac defibrillator since about 2006. About 2010, one of the two “leads”–that each has more than one connection to the heart muscles–“fractured. Broke, in other words. Because of the multiple connections and where the break was located, they were able to switch from one connection to another and continue to march until the defibrillator’s battery ran low (they usually last 3 to 7 years). At that point, about 2011, my doctors changed out the defibrillator but made no changes to the “leads.” About 2016, when the battery was again running low, the doctors decided to ADD a third lead to replace the one that was working without backup. Wondering how much space was available for the leads, I asked the electro-cardiologist–did you realize there was such a specialty? I didn’t–if we should remove the old lead. He said “We can, but usually don’t. It multiplies the risks with little benefit.” So, I now have three leads (with one not attached to the defibrillator). This April, at my normal 3-month check, it was discovered that one of my two working leads had fractured, again. They thought they had another “work-around,” but that turned out to be wrong. It turns out removing those leads is relatively rare and very few doctors have any experience at it.
One of the benefits of living in Massachusetts, close to the UMass Medical School, is that they have some of the finest doctors in the country. The guy who is their leading teacher and most experienced practitioner of lead revision is a Dr. Rosenthal. I am scheduled for a lead revision–as an outpatient procedure–on 2 August. He will be doing the revision. As the procedure was explained to me, the attachment to the heart muscle–which looks like a stretched out coil–is screwed into the muscle. Over time, the tissue around the connection becomes like tough scar tissue, and is quite difficult to break. So, what they use is a little, tiny laser to break the scar tissue so the lead can be unscrewed and removed. It’s delicate, but doable. Most doctors do less than 10 of these in a lifetime; Rosenthal does 50 to 75 every year, and has for years.
I’m going into this procedure with complete confidence and fully expect my brother-in-law to pick me up sometime in the afternoon of 2 August to take me home (they won’t let you drive for a day after all the anesthesia they use). It is possible I will not survive, but it won't be due to the doctor’s lack of training or experience. Bob Hall’s lung transplant was far riskier than this and he now has a job working for the VA. Wish me luck, anyway. I’d rather be lucky than good.
Judging by the newspaper article, either they’ve gotten the nomenclature completely wrong, or “the nurse” who was removing Armstrong’s leads had neither the training nor the experience to be doing something that delicate. And, that in turn, is why the hospital settled the claim for such a large amount of money. Those guys don’t pay off just because someone dies; this is the most likely reason for it.