TC • Media
Victoria Anderson, left, is shown at her home with her daughter Danielle. The Louisbourg woman suffered a stroke in 1997 during a medical procedure. Erin Pottie - Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY — A Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice has ruled that a Halifax doctor was negligent in the standard of care provided to a Louisbourg woman who suffered a stroke and is now trapped inside her body.
Victoria Renata Anderson was 23 when she suffered a stroke in 1997 after doctors attempted to insert a central line in her internal jugular vein.
The procedure failed and Anderson suffered a stroke at the base of her brain, which left her in a state known as locked-in syndrome. While Anderson still maintains cognitive brain function, the only muscles she can voluntarily move are those controlling her eyes, which is her sole source of communication.
In a 102-page decision released Thursday, Justice Cindy Bourgeois ruled that Dr. Shirl Gee, who at the time was a senior medical resident in internal medicine, struck an artery twice while attempting to insert the line into Anderson’s neck. In addition, the judge said the placement of Anderson’s head during the procedure was not in accordance with recognized protocol for such a procedure.
Bourgeois also concluded Gee failed to secure informed consent from Anderson before the procedure.
“In my view, there is sufficient evidence for the court to establish that Dr. Gee’s actions on April 5, 1997, could have caused Ms. Anderson’s stroke,” said Bourgeois.
The suit also named a second doctor, Dr. Sudheer Sharma, who at the time was a junior medical resident. However, Bourgeois dismissed any claim against Sharma, who is now a cardiologist.
“I decline to find that Dr. Sharma fell below the requisite standard of care given the circumstances. I cannot reach the same conclusion with respect to Dr. Gee,” wrote Bourgeois, noting that as the junior resident, Sharma deferred to Gee on how to proceed with treatment.
Anderson was admitted to the QE II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax after being transferred from a Sydney hospital where she was being treated for a flare-up of her chronic bowel disease. At the time, Anderson was busy raising her then two-year-old daughter and planning her wedding, which was scheduled for May of 1997.
Three days before taking a stroke, two other doctors attempted to insert the central line but also failed. On April 5, the line had still not been placed and Sharma and Gee, now an endocrinologist, attempted to do so for 45 minutes but failed. The next day, Anderson was experiencing serious neurological symptoms, which resulted in a stroke.
In her decision, Bourgeois said it was probable Anderson suffered the stroke as a result of arterial punctures.
“I find it probable that the artery punctured was the vertebral artery which prompted the development of a clot. This clot embolized and became lodged in the base of the brain,” said Bourgeois.
Lawyers for the doctors and Anderson, now 38, spent two weeks in January arguing the case before Bourgeois and the trial heard from some nine witnesses.
Anderson’s lawyer Ray Wagner said Thursday he and the family are now cautiously optimistic there will be no appeal filed. Gee’s legal representative has 30 days to file an appeal.
While the decision makes no reference to compensation, Wagner said the cash award is worth several million dollars, which will help support Anderson’s future needs along with those of her family and her daughter.
Anderson testified at the trial with the aid of her caregiver and using a simple letter board. In her decision, Bourgeois said Anderson can spell out words by looking up for “yes” and down for “no.”