Army doctors failed to timely diagnose and treat aortic dissection in a pregnant woman, which caused her death and left the infant with a permanent brain injury. She presented to the hospital three days earlier with radiating chest pain, but was discharged, despite an abnormal electrocardiogram. We settled the case for $5,000,000.

Case details

Towards the end of a healthy pregnancy, Gwendolyn Spratling presented to Martin Army Community Hospital in Georgia at the end of her third trimester complaining of sharp chest pain, radiating to her neck and jaw. She also reported nausea. She was given a fetal non-stress test with normal results and a normal fetal heart rate. But Gwendolyn had an abnormal electrocardiogram. Despite this abnormal result, her chest, neck and jaw pain was dismissed as secondary to anxiety and she was discharged with no additional evaluation, cardiac or otherwise.

Three days later Gwendolyn went out to dinner with her husband and family. After dinner, she felt increasingly tired and experienced chest pain that became severe. Her family took helped her to her husband’s car. Mr. Spratling drove her to Martin Army Community Hospital, with her parents following behind in their car. In transit to the hospital, Gwendolyn lost consciousness and arrested. Providers performed an emergency cesarean section due to the agonal heart rate of the baby, and delivered her baby. Sadly, Gwendolyn died minutes later. An autopsy revealed that Gwendolyn suffered from an acute Type A aortic dissection with extension into the left main and left anterior descending coronary arteries.

Army doctors were negligent in failing to timely diagnose and treat Gwen’s aortic dissection. Heart disease is the most common cause of maternal death, and pregnancy a known risk factor for aortic dissection in women under the age of 40, particularly in the third trimester. Had Army providers performed a cardiac workup when Mrs. Spratling presented with radiating chest pain, including a CT scan, it would have been evident that she required emergency heart surgery. Her child could have safely been delivered by Cesarean section without injury, and her life would have been spared. More likely than not, Gwendolyn and her infant would have survived the surgery, free of injury. As a result of the negligence of government providers, Mrs. Spratling lost her life at the age of 23 and her baby suffered both the loss of his mother and a permanent brain injury due to oxygen deprivation that he endured as Mrs. Spratling was dying. This double tragedy that took one young life and forever marred another was completely avoidable, had providers investigated and treated Mrs. Spratling’s cardiac symptoms.