A young California woman who lost her leg and won a $28.2 million lawsuit against Kaiser Permanente said Thursday she hopes the verdict will bring reform against the managed care giant and empower patients to question their treatment.
â€œI truly hope that this is going to make a change in health care reform,â€ said Anna Rahm, a 23-year-old Cal State Northridge student.
â€œHowever, I know that it takes so much advocacy and so much passion,â€ she said. â€œWe went into this with an initiative hoping that no matter the outcome, we wanted to get our story out there for everyone to be able to relate to and to learn from.â€
A jury on Wednesday found that Kaiser Permanente was liable for mishandling Rahmâ€™s medical treatment, resulting in the loss of her right leg, half of her pelvis and parts of her spine. The jury awarded Rahm the $28.2 million for future medical expenses, future loss of earnings, and pain and suffering after a four-week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, according to her attorneys.
In response to the verdict, Kaiser issued a statement Thursday saying it was evaluating the outcome of the case.
â€œAlthough we understand the juryâ€™s findings and wish only the best for Ms. Rahm, highly respected medical experts testified that the medical care provided was appropriate,â€ according to the statement. â€œWe will be evaluating in the days ahead how best to respond to this verdict.â€
Rahm was 16 years old when she began experiencing lower back pain. A chiropractor urged her to see her physician for an MRI. But according to court documents, her physician, Dr. Charlene Huang, who specializes in adolescent health at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, told Rahm and her mother, Lynnette, she could not authorize the test. Rahm was referred to another physician, Dr. Ngan Vuong, who according to court documents noted that the young woman was experiencing pain down her leg and was unable to sleep. Instead of a diagnostic test, Vuong prescribed an epidermal injection and antidepressant, according to court documents.
Between March and June of 2009, Rahmâ€™s family repeatedly requested an MRI from their treating physicians but both doctors refused to order any diagnostic exams. The complaint also said physicians failed to document the MRI request in the medical records.
Neither physician has had administrative penalties issued against them, according to licensing information by the California Medical Board.
When Kaiser Permanente agreed and the MRI was done on July 2, 2009, it revealed that Rahm had an aggressive tumor mass in her pelvis known as osteosarcoma. Rahm underwent chemotherapy, then surgeries lasting a total of 22 hours which resulted in the loss of her right leg.
Rahmâ€™s attorneys said Kaiser Permanenteâ€™s refusal to give her an MRI not only resulted in the loss of her leg, but also was an example of medical negligence. Her attorneys said the physiciansâ€™ refusal to authorize the MRI was an example of Kaiser trying to keep costs low.
One of Rahmâ€™s attorneys, Michael Bidart, said he hopes the verdict will change the way Kaiser provides health care to its members.
â€œThe hope is that they will allow their doctors to do prompt imaging and diagnosis without having an institutional bias against getting MRI,â€ Bidart said. â€œThere are a lot of good doctors at Kaiser, including the surgeon who did a magnificent job on her.â€
But the same surgeon could have done more to help her, had the MRI been done earlier, Bidart said.
Bidart also noted this is one of the few cases of its kind involving Kaiser to be presented in front of a jury.
â€œWe were able to avoid arbitration,â€ Bidart said. â€œWhen juries are able to see this, they are offended.â€
For Rahm and her family, the verdict helped to cast light on an injustice.
â€œIn our minds and in our hearts, it was important for justice to be done.â€ Lynnette Rahm said. â€œWe felt she had been wronged. Monetarily, it could never be corrected. For years and years, Kaiser had been telling us, â€˜Weâ€™ve done everything right.â€™ This was the greatest verdict of all.â€
She agreed that after the MRI detected cancer, her daughter received great care at Kaiser.
â€œThe doctors who came afterward were wonderful,â€ Lynnette Rahm said. â€œThey saved her life. We love them. It goes to show weâ€™re not against Kaiser or against all doctors. Weâ€™re against doctors who donâ€™t do their jobs.â€
Now that the trial is behind her, Anna Rahm said she plans to continue pursuing her degree at CSUN in child and adolescent development. She said she already visits children and teens who are hospitalized and frightened.
â€œWhen I ended up surviving cancer, I felt I needed to help children in the hospital, because I was helped after my diagnosis,â€ said Rahm, who has been cancer-free since 2010. â€œI felt as though it was important for me to give back. I just feel I know they benefit from what Iâ€™m giving to them and I can benefit from what they are giving me.â€
If you or a loved one have become victim to medical negligence, contact Chhabra & Gibbs, P.A. today by going to http://www.cglawms.com or by calling 601-948-8005 for a free consultation.