Meningitis Misdiagnosis Leads to Permanent Brain Injury–Ava’s Story

Woman holding hand to infected ear

Ava* was an intelligent, adventurous young woman with a bright future ahead of her. After college, she taught English in Japan, then returned home to earn two master’s degrees before landing her dream job as a senior marketing manager. Because her meningitis was diagnosed as “swimmer’s ear”, she can’t work and needs 24-hour care.

It began when she developed what she thought was just a bad cold. She stayed home and took over-the-counter cold medicine, but it got worse. She had ringing in her ears, fluid draining out of one ear, and was starting to not hear very well. Her mom, Jill*, took her to the Emergency Room.

By then, Ava had a severe headache, chills, dizziness, fluctuating fever, nausea, and vomiting. The pain in her ear was excruciating, and she was so weak she required a wheelchair at the hospital. She obviously was a very sick woman.

But the worst was yet to come.

Doctor Dismisses Concerns about Symptoms

For an unknown reason, the ER doctor sent Ava to the children’s department, where she was examined by a pediatrician. He looked inside her ear using a child-sized scope, took a rote and spotty medical history, and – within 16 minutes – diagnosed her with “swimmer’s ear.”

Ava and her mother protested. Surely a minor infection of the outer ear canal couldn’t be making her this sick, could it? The pediatrician considered ordering a CT scan, but changed his mind with no explanation and discharged Ava, prescribing ear drops, ibuprofen and pain meds. A few minutes later, Jill went back to the doctor and begged him to reevaluate his diagnosis, but he dismissed her concerns.

Misdiagnosis Becomes Life-Threatening

Over the next 12 hours, Ava got steadily worse. Her fever returned, she became disoriented and less responsive to her mother’s voice. Finally, Jill called an ambulance. Within hours of arriving back in the ER, Ava was diagnosed with mastoiditis and bacterial meningitis, both life-threatening conditions.

Mastoiditis is an infection of the spongy part of the skull located just behind the ear. Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Ava was given massive doses of antibiotics and underwent emergency surgery. Other brain surgeries followed, but it was too late. Ava’s brain was permanently damaged.

Lawyers Document Medical Errors

Jill contacted the law firm of Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC, which investigated the case and filed suit against the doctors and hospital. Evidence and testimony from experts showed extreme negligence and medical error were to blame for Ava’s condition. If Ava had been diagnosed and treated correctly when she was first seen in the ER, her infection would not have spread to her brain.

JJS attorneys were able to obtain a substantial settlement for Ava, who could no longer work or even live by herself. Although the money will allow her to afford the quality care and support she will need for the rest of her life, nothing can ever restore her to the adventurous, capable woman she once was. Her bright future was snuffed out by a preventable medical misdiagnosis.

*Names changed to protect client privacy

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