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Jury Awards Chicago Family $7M after Man Dies after ER Errors

A Cook County jury has awarded $7 million to the family of a Chicago man who was being treated for an asthma attack but was left alone in a local hospital emergency room where he suffered brain and other injuries that eventually killed him.

The award, delivered Tuesday, came after a three-week trial stemming from the wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuit Michael Bell's wife filed after his 2006 death.

Bell, a longtime asthmatic, suffered an attack at his Southwest Side home on July 14, 2002, said Kevin Burke, the lawyer for wife Barbara Bell. Alone at the time, Michael Bell dialed 911, and Chicago Fire Department paramedics took him to nearby Holy Cross Hospital.

There, Holy Cross emergency room staff gave him a nebulizer treatment and believed he was recovering, Burke said.

But early the next morning after doctors had finished treating him, nursing staff left his side to attend to other duties, witnesses who testified during the trial alleged, Burke said.

Thirty minutes later, staff returned to the "trauma bay" where Bell had been sitting on a stretcher. This time, though, they "found him slumped over," Burke alleged.

"He goes into respiratory arrest, followed by cardiac arrest and [he suffered] permanent injury to the brain" at some point during those 30 minutes, Burke said.

While Bell had been able to manage his asthma - he had worked as a truck driver - he'd also had attacks in the past that sent him to the hospital to undergo intubation twice before.

Burke said testimony during the trial alleged that medical staff failed to find out that piece of his medical history. Witnesses also alleged that staff failed to administer what's known as a "Peak Expiratory Flow Rate" - a method of measuring how much air is exhaled in a single breath to determine the severity of blockage, Burke said.

Within a 30-minute span, Bell's condition worsened and he lapsed in to a coma - and four years later, in September 2006 at the age of 47, he died.

His grieving widow said in a statement that "we never expected an asthma attack would result in these horrible injuries. For the next four years, we never gave up hope that he would return to us."

On Wednesday, hospital spokesman Dennis Ryan would only say: "Holy Cross offers its deepest sympathies to the family of Michael Bell for their loss."



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