A jury awarded $78.5 million Wednesday to a Lake Worth woman who suffered a brain injury after treatment at a local hospital, in what her attorney is calling the largest single award for an injured person in Orange County, and possibly the state.
After a seven-day trial, the jury took four hours to find that a Sand Lake Hospital physician’s assistant, doctor and nursing staff were negligent in their care of Henalori “Hena” McGee, 44. McGee was hospitalized in April 1998 for abdominal pain that eventually ended in a brain injury that has left her incapacitated, her attorney said.
“She’s basically locked in a body that does not work,” said attorney Jesse Faerber. “She needs basically 24-hour care to assist her. She’s really in the worst kind of situation she can be in.”
Joe Brown, a spokesman for Orlando Regional Healthcare System Inc., which includes Sand Lake, said the hospital would appeal the verdict. He said the hospital staff treated McGee appropriately.
“Obviously our initial reaction is we were shocked with the amount of the award,” he said.
Faerber said McGee, who once worked at Burdines in South Florida, was neglected from the minute she got to the hospital.
McGee, her husband and their grandson were in Orlando for her husband’s insurance convention in 1998. While here, she developed severe abdominal pain and was taken by ambulance to Sand Lake just before 1 a.m. April 6, 1998. A physician’s assistant saw her and decided she could have been having a gall bladder or appendix attack and gave her pain medicine about 2:15 a.m, Faerber said.
“They never picked up on the signs that she was bleeding” internally, Faerber said.
By about 3:45 a.m., her heart stopped and, for 13 minutes, McGee had no blood pressure, Faerber said. Doctors started her heart again and she was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where tests determined she had a tumor the size of a grapefruit on her liver. Doctors removed it.
“Unfortunately at that point she had a brain injury,” he said.
Faerber said McGee, expected to live well into her 70s, requires constant care. Among other things, she can’t walk, speak, see or manage her own personal hygiene.
“She’s going to live the rest of her life with other people having to take care of her,” he said.