Stephanie Hollingsworth is used to sudden bursts of intense pain. She suffers from vasculitis, an autoimmune disease, and one of the symptoms is blood vessel inflammation causing severe muscle and joint pain. But one day in 2008, the suffering became unbearable. On November 21, ulcerations had formed on her feet and the aching in her hands was so excruciating that she had to check in to the Holy Cross Hospital, located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The autoimmune disease can attack tissue and eventually organs if left untreated.
When Hollingsworth, who was 26 at the time, arrived at the hospital there were no beds available in the intensive care unit (ICU). Staff at the hospital found room in the cardiac unit, where she remained for her entire stay. The attending rheumatologist, Dr. Yvonne Sherrer, examined Hollingsworth and decided to put her on steroids and pain killers. A medical malpractice lawsuit claims that Sherrer misdiagnosed Hollingsworth and should have prescribed Cytoxan, an immunosuppressant. After a week of her condition worsening dramatically, Hollingsworth was transferred to the ICU at the University of Miami Hospital.
Doctors there immediately put Hollingsworth on Cytoxan. But according to the lawsuit, it was already too late. Medical records show that part of her left foot, nine of her toes, the tip of two fingers, and her right thumb had all succumbed to gangrene. The attending physicians at the University of Miami Hospital had no other recourse than to amputate. Hollingsworth can no longer walk or stand for any extended period of time and uses prosthetic devices in order to live. She also suffers from constant pain from the vasculitis and from the amputations.
“This doctor’s failure to follow the standard of care for her profession caused this young woman to suffer nightmarish injuries,” said one of Hollingsworth’s attorneys after the trial. “She will never be able to lead a normal life.”
After years of litigation the two sides were not able to come to a settlement so the medical malpractice lawsuit went to trial in Broward County. The Florida jury listened to both sides before deliberating and returning with a verdict in favor of Hollingsworth. The jury awarded her $15.9 million, including $10 million for pain and suffering, $5 million for past and future medical expenses, as well as $922,000 for lost income.
It is not yet clear whether Dr. Sherrer will appeal the ruling. Holy Cross Hospital was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but were found to be not at fault.