At 87 years old, Lena Wilson lived a vibrant life. She went on walks with her son Mark every day, often stopping at the local ice cream shop where she was a beloved regular. After many years of teaching kindergarten in Newport, she was often recognized and approached by her now-adult students, who wanted to say hello and thank her. She loved to draw and paint. Despite a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, she maintained her characteristic sense of humor and was in otherwise good health.
When she developed a typical case of pneumonia and lost her appetite, Lena’s doctor suggested a temporary feeding tube. He assured Mark the procedure was standard and would be temporary. Knowing that his mother had scar tissue on her abdomen from a surgery many years prior, Mark requested that she instead receive a “j-tube,” similar to a regular feeding tube but placed differently. The doctor listened but later went ahead with the standard feeding tube procedure without informing Mark.
Just a day or two later, Lena developed a severe infection and it became clear that the feeding tube had moved. Lena was given antibiotics but the infection continued to worsen. It was not until two and half weeks later that she was brought in for surgery to remove the infection. What was meant to be a simple, temporary solution to Lena’s loss in appetite became a month-long hospital stay.
When Lena returned home, she needed round-the-clock care. Her quality of life was vastly diminished. After just a few weeks, she developed a c-diff infection as a result of the antibiotics she had to take. The c-diff turned into sepsis and Lena died soon after returning to the hospital.
Mark is certain that his mother would still be alive today if her rapidly progressing infection had been treated appropriately, and if her doctor had taken her scar tissue into consideration.
He tried to get justice for Lena, who suffered needlessly for months leading to her death. After speaking with several lawyers to try to get justice, he learned about California’s 1975 cap on damages in medical malpractice cases. The cap meant that because of Lena’s age, lawyers could not afford to take his case.
He thought about filing a complaint to the Medical Board of California, but lawyers and other families he spoke with said that filing a claim would be a waste of his time. They told him that the Board rarely takes action against doctors, and “takes forever” to reach decisions. Already grieving, Mark did not want to face more disappointment, and decided not to file.
Mark is fighting for reform in California because he never wants another elderly parent to go through what his mother did. He wants a Medical Board that protects patients, not doctors.