Texas registered nurse criminally charged in death of four ICU patients

It’s unusual to see medical malpractice morph into criminal conduct.

With that said, I’ve seen firsthand what alleged criminal conduct looks like in a hospital setting. After all, I represented one of the victims of Plano/Dallas area neurosurgeon Christopher, Duntsch, MD, who’s been dubbed “Dr. Death” in a podcast and TV show.

My client, in his 40s, was rendered quadriplegic because of Dr. Duntsch’s operating room conduct. Once a pattern of patient paralysis and death was uncovered, Dr. Duntsch was criminally charged. At the criminal trial, prosecutors told the jury about over 30 patients at four Dallas-area hospitals who were seriously injured or died under his care. Dr. Duntsch was convicted and is currently incarcerated for a life sentence.

Texas hospital-related criminal charges are once again in the news. This time the criminal defendant is Tyler-based registered nurse William George Davis, RN. Nurse Davis worked in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Christus Mother Frances Hospital—Tyler.

Four patients died while under the post-operative care of Nurse Davis. Hospital officials initially notified law enforcement of seven suspicious patient incidents.

As a former hospital administrator, I feel compelled to comment that the quality improvement and peer review functions at Christus Mother Frances Hospital—Tyler appear to have been working well. The idea behind this important committee work is for medical, nursing, and administrative leaders to uncover adverse events and prevent them from happening in the future.

On September 28, 2021, prosecutors alleged that Nurse Davis intentionally injected air into arterial lines of these patients, which caused stroke-like symptoms. Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putnam described Nurse Davis as a “serial killer” and made the chilling comment to the jury that, “It turns out a hospital is the perfect place for a serial killer to hide.”

According to the prosecution, the four patients who died were in stable condition after surgery until they showed stroke-like symptoms. CT scans revealed abnormal arterial spaces in their brains, which the prosecution described as air embolisms.

Of course, Nurse Davis is innocent until proven guilty. His attorney told the jury that strokes aren’t an uncommon occurrence in an ICU setting, and Nurse Davis was just an innocent victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The trial is expected to take at least one month, and we’ll continue to monitor it.

What is an air embolism?

According to Anesthesiology, vascular air embolism occurs when air from the operative field or other communication with the environment finds its way into a vein or artery, producing system-wide effects. Basically, an air embolism is an air bubble that enters a blood vessel and travels to a vital organ, such as the brain, heart, or lungs, where it causes damage.

Air emboli are sentinel or never events because they’re considered avoidable with proper procedures and attention. Common causes of air embolism include a leaky catheter or tubing , failure to clear air out of an IV line before placement, or improper removal of an IV line.

Although the most common surgery where vascular embolism occurred was a sitting-position craniotomy, recent research has shown that this unwanted complication may occur in a variety of other settings. These include procedures within the peritoneal cavity and even vascular access (e.g., intravenous/IV, catheter, or central line placement).

When an air embolism occurs, the two biggest factors determining the extent of harm are the volume of air entrainment and the rate the air builds up or accumulates. Air emboli can cause respiratory arrest, cardiopulmonary arrest (heart attack), or a stroke, depending on the intruding air’s ultimate destination.

When an air embolism occurs, it requires urgent diagnosis and medical attention to avoid damage to a vital organ.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of an air embolism in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.

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.