ALS Misdiagnosis Acts as a Double-Edged Sword

(July 14, 2011) Imagine being diagnosed with a fatal disease, only to realize you never actually had that disease. While a misdiagnosis should come as good news, picture the anguish of fearing your imminent death. Picture the look on the faces of your friends, family, neighbors – even acquaintances – when they think you will leave them, only to realize you aren’t going anywhere. Such was the case for a Pennsylvania man who was misdiagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

 

Dr. Leo McCluskey gave Eric Davenport between 18 months and three years to live until the ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) would take his life. Davenport quit both of his jobs, planned his funeral, and experienced terror, knowing that at any moment, his life could be taken from him.

 

However, three years passed and Davenport did not display any of the debilitating symptoms he was warned about. So he went for a second opinion, and it turns out that he never had ALS. Rather, he suffered from thoracic myelopathy, which is compression of the spinal cord that results in impairment of nerve function.

 

This new diagnosis comes as a double-edged sword: on one hand, it is great news that he indeed does not have ALS and will not die in the near future. However, the bad news is that because he waited so long to treat his thoracic myelopathy (unintentionally, of course, as he did not even know he had this disorder) too much damage had occurred for treatment to be effective.

 

Davenport is now permanently confined to a wheelchair. He testified that the three days of his life he will never forget were: the day McCluskey diagnosed him with ALS and had a maximum of three years to live; the day he went for his second opinion and was told he actually did not have ALS; and the day a neuromuscular expert examined him in preparation for the trial and reaffirmed that he did not have ALS. You could only imagine the fervor and anguish delivered by his testimony. The testimony of a man who at one point was certain that he would be deceased within the next three years. A man who had to plan (and now cancel) his own funeral. Imagine that!

 

The jury must have taken all that to heart when delivering their verdict in under five hours of deliberation. They awarded $10 million in damages (roughly $1.2 million for his life care plan and roughly $1 million for lost earnings, both past and future. The remaining damages contribute to his pain and suffering, embarrassment, and loss of life’s pleasures).

 

Every time you read a jury verdict with a high dollar amount, you must think to yourself: the reason he/she is awarded such a high amount is because they cannot change his/her complexion; they cannot admit that Doctor McCluskey was wrong and begin treatment for his current illness. It is too late for that. Even though he was awarded $7.5 million, Eric Davenport will remain in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Is this the price of justice?

 

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