DES MOINES — A state panel agreed Tuesday to pay $2.5 million to settle a medical negligence lawsuit brought by a Fairfield woman whose back and spinal problems were not properly diagnosed by doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, and must now use a wheelchair and be cared for round-the-clock.
Members of the State Appeal Board voted 3-0 to settle a lawsuit brought by Isabeau Norwood in Jefferson County District Court after doctors at the Jefferson County Health Center and state medical facilities failed to diagnose a spinal epidural abscess while she was a patient at the Cherokee and Iowa City centers in June and July of 2014.
“Tragic,” was only comment made by State Appeal Board Chairman David Roederer before he, State Auditor Rob Sand and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald voted to approve the settlement.
According to board documents, $1,666,667 will be paid from the state’s general fund to cover damages suffered by Norwood and her then-minor son, while University of Iowa Physicians will pay $833,333 to settle the claim.
“The facts of this are very complicated,” Iowa Assistant Attorney General Anne Updegraff told the three-member board.
The lawsuit also named the Jefferson County Health Center and four physicians as defendants, but those defendants were not covered by Tuesday’s settlement. “The last I knew, those parties had not settled,” said Updegraff.
The lawsuit stemmed from Norwood’s initial visit to the Jefferson County Health Center in Fairfield to be examined for severe back pain on May 30, 2014. She had been having chronic back pain for about 14 years, noted Updegraff.
After she made several return trips without resolution of the worsening medical problems, two physicians and a mental-health therapist obtained an involuntary commitment order to have Norwood treated at the Cherokee institution, and later at the UIHC pain center in June 2014 with recommendations of pain psychology and biofeedback upon discharge.
The attending UIHC physician did not take any “vital signs” during the examination and “erroneously noted” Norwood had no history of incontinence, even though that was part of the Cherokee institution records, according to the documents included in Tuesday board packet.
On July 4, 2014, Norwood experienced severe back pain and fell at home because her legs gave out under her. Emergency room doctors at the Jefferson County health center noted a high white-blood count, severe anemia, fatigue and other symptoms as well as a suspected compression fracture before transferring her to UIHC. There, she underwent an MRI followed immediately by surgery to address spinal, bone and other medical issues.
“Due to the failure to diagnose Norwood’s condition, she is permanently paralyzed from the waist down,” according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf.
Court documents indicate her recovery has been “slow and filled with many medical challenges” that have included two subsequent heart attacks, four surgeries, the loss of her lower left leg and her right leg, as well as other medical maladies cited in the lawsuit that alleged breach of duty and negligence.
Updegraff said the Fairfield woman must use a wheelchair and be cared for 24 hours a day.