Utah woman bled to death into a garbage can during botched heart surgery, lawsuit says

Donnamay Brockbank, 62, died at St. Mark's Hospital in Millcreek on July 11, 2018, after undergoing surgery to remove a heart device.

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By Minyvonne Burke

A Utah woman died following open-heart surgery when a tube that doctors failed to close drained her blood into a garbage can, her family said in a lawsuit filed against the surgeons.

Donnamay Brockbank, 62, died at St. Mark's Hospital in Millcreek, Utah, on July 11, 2018, after undergoing surgery to remove a heart device that was causing an allergic reaction, according to a suit filed this month in the Third Judicial District Court in Salt Lake City.

Her family said Brockbank "bled to death because all of her blood and seven additional units" of blood she was given drained from her heart and into a medical waste garbage can through an open tube her surgeons, Dr. Shreekanth V. Karwande and Dr. David G. Affleck, failed to close.

"Ms. Brockbank bled until her heart could no longer beat because all of her blood and seven additional units were in the garbage can on the floor below the operating table," the suit states.

According to the lawsuit, doctors inserted a thin tube into one of Brockbank's veins and used a cardiopulmonary bypass machine to pump blood into a reservoir during the surgery.

Donnamay BrockbankFamily photo

Karwande and Affleck left the operating room after the surgery without removing or clamping the tube, the lawsuit states. Another worker then began to break down the bypass machine, placing the reservoir in the garbage can.

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As Brockbank's heart began to pump on its own, blood drained through the still-open tube and into the reservoir.

Dr. Kyle Enslin, an anesthesiologist, was in the room and noticed that Brockbank's vitals were dropping and had Karwande come back, according to the suit.

"By the time Karwande did return, Ms. Brockbank was already in severe distress because all of her blood had drained into the reservoir that was sitting in the garbage can," the suit states.

Doctors began pumping seven units of blood into Brockbank to try and save her, but it was leaving her body through the tube. Doctors still had not realized the tube was open, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit states that Brockbank's death could have been avoided if doctors had noticed the tube had not been clamped. Her family has suffered "emotional anguish" and are seeking an amount to be determined at trial.

"Our hearts go out to Donnamay Brockbank’s family and we want to express our sincerest condolences for their loss," St. Mark's Hospital said in a statement. "At the time of this tragic incident, we carefully reviewed the clinical care we provided. We seek to learn from every patient situation as we continuously improve the quality and safety of patient care at our hospital."

Brockbank's son, Brad, 39, said in a video provided by the family's lawyer that the death has been hard on the family. She was married with four adult children.

“Mom’s qualities were countless. First and foremost, just the love she had for others. She would give herself to anybody that needed it,” he said. “She was the kindest, most generous woman that I’ve ever known.”

Her oldest son, Bart Brockbank, 41, said he misses his mother's smile.

“Her smile was always able to make you feel better,” he said through tears in the video.

Affleck, who is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment. Karwande and Enslin also could not immediately be reached for comment.

The BMJ, a medical journal, said in a report published this week that more than 1 in 10 patients are harmed while receiving medical care, and half of those injuries are preventable. Among the medical errors that are preventable, 12 percent lead to either a patient becoming permanently disabled or dying, according to the report.