Lorraine Cano was living a joyful life as a vibrant senior. She devotedly walked her two little chihuahuas at the park every day. She enjoyed dining at home, and going out for meals with family. A mother of six and married for over 61 years, she had always been involved in her children’s and grandchildren’s lives and was supportive of their diverse interests. She was an encyclopedia of music and lyrics and loved to sing.
She and her daughter Rachelle were best friends. They went on vacations together and Lorraine especially loved their road trip to Jackson, Wyoming with the chihuahuas. Rachelle describes her mother as intelligent, funny, lighthearted, and loving.
When Lorraine was diagnosed with a coronary artery blockage in 2018, she opted to have an elective procedure to fix it. She took her time selecting the most qualified doctor to do the job. Her main cardiologist said she did not necessarily need the procedure since her blood-flow had naturally re-routed and she was asymptomatic of heart disease, but she wanted to make the best decision for her longevity.
The doctor that was recommended was charismatic and convincing. He held Lorraine’s hands and said, “I can fix this. Look at you, you’re beautiful!” He told her how young she looked for her age and that she should take care of the blockage so she could “live to 100.”
Lorraine and Rachelle arranged to have the procedure done by this doctor because they trusted him. He was known to be one of the best interventional cardiologists on the west coast. Rachelle specifically informed the hospital via email and phone call that they did not want anyone else to touch the tools, or perform the procedure – no trainees or students. She was reassured by the clinic staff that only the doctor would be the main operator and they rescheduled for the following week.
During the procedure, Rachelle and other family members sat nervously in the waiting area. She looked up and noticed their doctor out in the lobby, speaking with other patients’ families. She and her family thought that was strange and wondered if her mother’s procedure was over, but he didn’t come over to tell her how it went. They waited and worried.
After a much longer wait than anticipated, a different doctor approached her and exclaimed “I fixed the leak!” Confused, Rachelle asked what he was talking about, but her questions were brushed off. Then he said her mother was in the ICU.
That evening during rounds in the ICU, Rachelle asked the surgeon point-blank, “Did you perforate her artery?” He responded that he had. “It happens all the time,” he said. He attempted to reassure her that perforation was “very common.” But Rachelle knew from her research that this wasn’t true.
Later that night Lorraine’s heart was racing. They learned the injury had caused a permanent irregular heartbeat along with symptoms of congestive heart failure. She had several broken ribs as a result of fifteen minutes of CPR. She acquired stage 3 kidney failure due to disrupted blood-flow. Still, no one had provided them details of the error in the operating room, nor of a heart attack Lorraine had on the operating table. Her ribs ached from the CPR she had received but no one ordered an x-ray in ICU.
The hospital rushed to send her home despite Lorraine’s new and serious symptoms that could cause fatal complications. Just five days after the botched surgery, the hospital released Lorraine without any referrals. The broken ribs were confirmed several days after the procedure, after a hospitalist finally gave in to the family’s request for an x-ray.
This was the start of a long and tumultuous journey for Lorraine and her family. They were devastated and felt betrayed by their doctor. They had hired the expert to prevent this kind of outcome.
In the shocking aftermath of the days to follow, Lorraine and Rachelle realized the doctor who had exclaimed that he “fixed the leak” was probably who had attempted the procedure. He was only in training for, and did not yet specialize in, interventional cardiology.
Rachelle later recorded a conversation with her mother about the incident. She asked her mother what she would like the surgeon to know. Lorraine said, “What about your Hippocratic oath? Didn’t that mean anything to you? You just threw me aside to a person that didn’t even know enough, was not skilled enough. I had the most confidence in you… Now I’m just living from day to day, and there are so many problems with my heart. I no longer have a normal, working heart.”
After months of immense suffering and trauma, Rachelle found a cardiologist herself, at an out-of-state hospital, who performed a successful procedure to restore Lorraine’s cardiac rhythm. She was finally in stable condition and recovering. Rachelle took care of her mother as best she could. Lorraine miraculously began to regain her strength, enough to start enjoying life again.
Then, in February of 2021, Lorraine developed abdominal pain out of the blue and lost her appetite. They went to the emergency room.
Despite the diagnosis of stage 3 kidney failure in Lorraine’s medical records, she was given a contrast dye to improve x-ray image visibility. Dye is known to be toxic to patients with unhealthy kidneys. The doctor had also gambled on a potent antibiotic medication known to cause pancreatitis in some elderly people. Both proved lethal for Lorraine.
The medical staff failed to treat her in a timely fashion. There was no sense of urgency and Rachelle had to monitor her mother’s care herself. She felt helpless. By the time they started dialysis, it was too late. Lorraine slipped into a semi-vegetative state.
After years of supporting her mother through injury and recovery, Rachelle could do nothing now. She held her mother’s hands and sung to her as she passed.
Rachelle never wants another elderly parent to go through the needless pain that her mother did in her last years of life. She sought justice, but ran up against California’s cap on damages in medical malpractice cases. Under the cap, no attorney would take the case.
Rachelle is in the process of filing a complaint with the Medical Board of California to hold the providers accountable, but fears she will not get a just outcome. She has met many families whose Board complaints have been dismissed without real investigation.
Rachelle is advocating for change, for her mother and for all victims of medical malpractice.
“My mom loved life,” Rachelle says. “I refuse to accept that it was ‘her time’ just because she was an elderly patient. When a person dies as a result of medical error, it is a premature death, no matter the patient’s age.”