Child dies from hematoma, spinal cord compression after spinal tap

A mother recently called Painter Law Firm to share a tragic and sad story about the death of her nine-year-old son from mismanaged complications of a spinal tap.

The little boy was being treated at a major hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a highly treatable form of cancer that affects white blood cells. It is the most common type of childhood cancer, most often afflicting children ages 3 to 5 years old. It is most common in Hispanic children, followed by white and African-American kids, and is slightly more common in boys than girls.

With proper treatment, about 90% of children go into remission within weeks of starting treatment, and about 90% of the children can be cured. Unfortunately, this little boy did not go into remission within the first month, so his doctor scheduled him for the next step, a bone marrow transplant.

The purpose of a bone marrow transplant in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia is to replace unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones, often from a family member who is a 100% match. In this child’s case, the bone marrow transplant was a success.

He remained hospitalized for around a month, and the day before his release had a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). In a spinal tap, doctor uses a needle to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the lower back. Healthcare providers need to know whether the leukemia spread to that fluid, in order to determine the best medications to use in treatment.

The day after the spinal tap, he was released from the hospital for the first time since his bone marrow transplant a month earlier.

The family was not even home 12 hours before the little boy was complaining of pain that was so severe he was unable to walk. They returned to the hospital and he was admitted. Over the next week, when the physician teams did the rounds, the parents and child told them about his back and the severe pain. The doctors reassured them that it was just soreness from the spinal tap but did no testing to make sure.

Within a few days, his symptoms got worse. He could no longer urinate. The family insisted on prompt action, so the doctor finally gave in and ordered an MRI. It was not long after the MRI that the doctors and nurses were rushing him to surgery because the MRI showed a hematoma, or blood clot, that was compressing his spinal cord at the site of the spinal tap.

Sadly, the healthcare providers had waited too long, and the little boy’s condition was so unstable that they could not even complete the surgery to remove the hematoma. He ultimately died because of these easily-treatable complications.

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I have handled a lot of cases involving undiagnosed, untimely treated epidural hematomas that caused spinal cord compression. From this experience, I know that the standard of care requires doctors and nurses to investigate complaints of unusual pain and other symptoms following a back or spinal procedure. The easiest way to do so is for the doctor to order an MRI, which is a non-invasive, pain-free procedure. If the MRI shows spinal cord compression, then it is a medical emergency requiring an immediate return to surgery.

From my initial review of this case, I think that this young man’s doctors and nurses let them down by overlooking or ignoring his severe complaints of pain, jumping to a conclusion, rather than doing a proper workup. They waited too late and this little boy ended up paying with his life.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or even died because of poor medical, surgical, or hospital care, then the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.

All consultations are free and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.