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Parents of 'Jeopardy!' contestant Brayden Smith sue hospital, alleging wrongful death

The family says doctors' failure to prescribe their son blood thinners after surgery resulted in the blood clots that caused his death.
Image: Brayden Smith
Brayden Smith.Courtesy Jeopardy Productions Inc.

Parents of the late "Jeopardy!" winner Brayden Smith filed a lawsuit Monday against the Nevada hospital where their son underwent surgery last year, alleging negligence and medical malpractice by staff that led to his death.

Deborah and Scott Smith are seeking damages in what they allege was the wrongful death of their son, who died unexpectedly last year, according to the lawsuit filed in Clark County District Court. Doctors and nursing staff at St. Rose Dominican Hospital failed to give Brayden anticoagulants, a type of blood thinner meant to prevent blood clots, following a January 2021 surgery to remove his colon, his parents allege.

Brayden, who was 24 at the time, died about three weeks later of bilateral pulmonary emboli, multiple blockages in lung arteries caused by blood clots, the suit said.

The lawsuit will show "the sheer hell" Brayden went through prior to his death, Robert Murdock, the attorney representing the Smith family, said in a statement Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Dignity Health, which operates St. Rose Dominican Hospital, said they cannot comment on pending litigation but that the case is being reviewed.

Brayden was a five-time "Jeopardy!" winner and one of Alex Trebek's final champions before the beloved host died in 2020. Trebek nicknamed him "Billy Buzzsaw" and Brayden was praised on social media as "Alex's Last Great Champion."

The lawsuit includes a declaration from Dr. Keith Beiermeister, a colon and rectal surgeon who is board certified in California, that called Brayden's death "a result of the breach of the standard of care" by his doctors and nursing staff.

Brayden was hospitalized in December 2020 and January 2021 due to significant symptoms of his ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease which caused him to be weak and malnourished, according to the lawsuit.

His history made it imperative to have anticoagulants, Beiermeister said, but he was discharged on January 19, 2021 without them. He collapsed at his home 10 days later, requiring resuscitation and another trip to the hospital.

Brayden died on February 5, 2021, just a week later.

"The medical literature is clear that patients undergoing colorectal surgery as compared to general surgery have a significant increase in the risk of emboli," Beiermeister said. "This is especially true with preexisting inflammation as is present in inflammatory bowel disease. And that is why anticoagulant therapy was so necessary in Brayden’s case."

Beiermeister's review of the case found that Brayden's charts showed his doctor noted anticoagulants were "already ordered" but there had been no prior record of it.

Brayden's colon removal left him with a stoma, or an opening in the abdomen that allows waste or urine to leave the body. His parents also allege that nursing staff failed to adequately inform and prepare him to life with his stoma, including properly fitting him for equipment or helping him to order supplies.

The lack of care resulted in leaking ostomy bags that "causing Brayden’s waste to get all over his body," the lawsuit said. Tara Michelle Bohannon, a nurse who specializes in ostomy care, said in a written testimony that the nursing staff's role was "well-below the standard of care."

"A patient with a new Ostomy, especially a young one like Brayden, requires significant attention and teaching," Bohannon said. "The patient needs to get used to having a piece of intestine outside on his abdomen, as well as his waste emptying into an attached bag. This requires a large amount of time and patience."

The lawsuit asks for an injunction to prevent the hospital from performing similar surgeries until St. Rose can employ enterostomal therapists, a professional who specializes in care for patients with stomas.

The Smiths are also asking for monetary damages and have requested the case go to a jury trial.