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Pregnant Woman Paralyzed Following Improper Injection

March 8, 1985

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ A 21-year-old pregnant woman being treated for cancer at Albany Medical Center Hospital was mistakenly injected with a chemotherapy drug in her spinal column, leaving her paralyzed and on a respirator, authorities said today.

The woman, who is six months pregnant, was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for a cancer in her sinuses Feb. 27, officials said at a news conference.

A hospital resident misread the label on a syringe and included an improper drug among several injected into her spinal column, said Dr. Gregory Harper, assistant professor of medicine. Another resident was observing the procedure in the room at the time of the mistake, he added.

Harper said of 20 to 30 similar cases he knows of worldwide, only one patient ever injected with the chemotherapy drug in that manner survived. But, he said, the woman’s vital signs are stable and he said he could not speculate on her chances for survival.

″This is a rare occurrence. It has never occurred here before,″ said Dr. Michael Vanko, president and director of Albany Medical Center Hospital. ″We are not immune to error. We are not infallible as an institution.

″It was not a judgmental error. It was an unfortunate error,″ Vanko said.

He added that the two residents involved were ″shattered″ by the mistake.

On Tuesday, Bob East, a retired photographer for the Miami Herald, was pronounced brain dead, four days after doctors at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Medical Center accidentally injected him with a chemical preservative during surgery for facial cancer.

In the woman’s case, the drug, vincristine, should have been administered intravenously, Harper said. It was incorrectly injected into her spinal column along with several other drugs which were properly meant to go to her spinal column, he said.

The New York State Health Department is investigating the incident, Harper said. The residents, who were not identified, were reassigned within the hospital, said the physician.

Members of the nursing staff discovered the error when they searched for the vincristine, which has been in used for 15 years for treating a wide variety of cancers.

″When it came time to give the vincristine intravenously, we didn’t find it,″ said Harper, who was not in the room at the time.

The woman, who Harper said will not be identified, is paralyzed from the neck down. The drug bound itself to her nervous system tissues causing irreversible paralysis, he said.

After the error was discovered, doctors attempted to flush out her spinal column with a saline solution, Harper said, to stop the effects of the drug. But Harper said it is not known if their efforts to limit the damage were successful.

The mother is awake and the fetus was not effected and is maintaining a stable heart rate, according to Dr. John Goldkrand, head of the hospital’s division of maternal fetal medicine.

Doctors said they held a press conference to discuss the case following an inquiry about it Thursday.

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