Around the Fresno area, she was something of a minor celebrity, a buoyant teen beating the odds against a rare illness. Brittany Wilkinson pushed hard to raise awareness of mitochondrial myopathy, a disorder that left her largely confined to a wheelchair. She helped raise money for a cure and even received a proclamation from the Governor for her efforts.
But her life of promise ended around her 18th birthday, when Brittany went to Children’s Hospital Central California. She was scheduled for a procedure to test whether doctors should remove the two shunts implanted in her skull that drained excess fluid, the source of painful headaches.
The plan was to plug one shunt and then monitor the pressure in her skull. But right after the procedure, Brittany began experiencing horrific pain. As she lay writhing in her hospital bed, clutching her head in agony, she told her mom the pain was so bad she no longer wanted to live. By morning, she was showing symptoms of neurological injury.
But Brittany’s doctor was at a barbecue that day and did not check up on her. By 5 pm, it was too late to save her.
The young woman sat up in bed, screamed and lost consciousness. It was only then that the hospital staff realized the monitor to gauge cranial pressure was disconnected. The pressure in Brittany’s head was so extreme it pushed her brain stem through the base of her skull.
When her family sought answers, they learned about the state’s $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for medical malpractice. Undeterred, Brittany’s parents pushed for a trial to hold the hospital accountable for the preventable death of their daughter.
Ultimately, the hospital and doctor settled rather than go to trial. For Brittany’s family, it’s not about the money. It’s about preventing a hospital’s callous disregard for its patients from continuing.