A young combat veteran of the Iraq war was 27 years old when he called the Dallas VA appointment line to request an appointment due to back pain. The next evening, he began experiencing urinary incontinence at home. He woke from a nap having wet himself. He presented to the Dallas VA complaining of lumbar back pain, decreased muscle strength and numbness of the lower extremities, bladder dysfunction, lower extremity radicular pain, and difficulty walking. He was seen by a physician’s assistant. A future lumbar MRI was ordered (with no time or date specified) and he was discharged to home.
With no improvement and dissatisfied with his treatment at the VA, he presented to a private hospital in Dallas where a CT of the lumbar spine revealed an extruded disc with a free floating fragment. The diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome was made and he was transferred for emergency surgery, but it was too late.
At the age of 27, this veteran faces the rest of his life as a paraplegic suffering from permanent cauda equina syndrome. Because the Dallas VA failed to diagnose his cauda equina syndrome and perform surgery within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, he suffered permanent neurologic damage. He is a paraplegic and suffers from bowel, bladder and erectile dysfunction. He must use crutches or is confined to a wheelchair. He suffers daily pain and numbness. All of these damages were preventable if the VA timely diagnosed and treated his cauda equina syndrome. The VA settled his case pre-suit for $800,000.
A veteran of the Vietnam War suffered a similar fate following back surgery at the West Los Angeles VA. The veteran underwent a L4-5 and L5-S1 laminectomy. Before surgery, he suffered back pain but did not have problems with bowel function, urination, or sexual function. He did not have difficulty walking.
The day after surgery, the veteran complained to the nurse of numbness in the scrotum, unable to feel sensation, and dull sensation in his right leg. The symptoms persisted and worsened. Soon he was numb from his waist down, incontinent of urine and bowel and had no feeling in his genital area. He was diagnosed with saddle anesthesia defined as a loss of sensation restricted to the area of the buttocks and perineum.
The post-operative changes he was experiencing are symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, which is an emergency requiring prompt surgical intervention to reduce pressure on the cauda equina nerves. The neurosurgeon was informed of the veteran’s symptoms but no imaging studies, further examination, or action of any kind was taken. When his doctors finally took him back to surgery two weeks later, it was too late. He now suffers from urinary and bowel incontinence, loss of sexual function, paresthesia lateral and posterior aspects of both legs and pedal and lower extremity edema. He was told that the symptoms have been present for so long, the damage was permanent. His case was settled before trial for $800,000.
Cauda Equina Syndrome Symptoms
When cauda equina symptoms are present, the standard of care requires cauda equina to be addressed as a surgical emergency.
Cauda Equina Symptoms Include:
- low back pain,
- numbness and/or tingling in the buttocks and lower extremities (sciatica),
- weakness in the legs,
- incontinence of bladder and/or bowels (including frequency of urination, lack of urination, failure to control the stream of urine)
- “saddle anesthesia” – numbness where the body would touch a saddle when sitting upon a horse.
If you or a loved one has suffered from the misdiagnosis of cauda equina syndrome or the failure to treat cauda equina syndrome, you should consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney familiar with these cases. Our lawyers have handled several cauda equina syndrome cases, and we are familiar with how to manage a cauda equina syndrome lawsuit. Contact us today for a free consultation about your cauda equina syndrome case.