Nashville, Tennessee. – The lawyer of a former Tennessee nurse on trial for the death of a patient accidentally injected with a paralyzing drug told jurors on Tuesday that the woman was accused of systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Radonda Watto, 37, is charged with reckless homicide for giving vecuronium drug to 75-year-old Charlene Murphy instead of the sedative Versed on December 26, 2017.
Murphy had been admitted to hospital two days earlier after suffering a headache and losing sight in one eye. On the 26th, doctors ordered a PET scan to check for cancer, but Murphy was claustrophobic and asked for medication to control her anxiety, according to the evidence.
Vaught could not find Versed in an automatic medicine cabinet because it was listed under the generic name midazolam. Instead, she used a cancellation mechanism to write “VE” and then grabbed vecuromium, according to court records. Vaught left the imaging area after injecting the drug, but minutes later another employee noticed that Murphy did not respond.
The family removed the woman from life support in the early hours of December 27.
Nashville District Attorney Assistant Debbie Housel said in an introductory statement Tuesday that the nurse ignored the warning labels on the drug and did not notice that the drug she chose was very different from what was needed.
“Radonda Woot recklessly ignores everything she learned in school when she used vecuronium, a drug sometimes used in the execution of prisoners,” the prosecutor said.
“Vecuronium is only given when someone is intubated because it paralyzes the body,” Housel said. “One cannot breathe, one cannot move, one cannot cry for help.”
In addition to the repeal, Vaught also failed to scan the drug against the patient’s medical identification bracelet, Housel said. She added that the drug she chose was a powder that needed to be dissolved instead of a liquid.
Defense attorney Peter Strians told the jury that the hospital was at least partly to blame for Murphy’s death.
He said that in 2017, problems with the new electronic record system led to delays in communication between the pharmacy and the hospital’s automatic medicine cabinets. This often forced nurses to repeal the system, he said. There was also no medicine scanner in the imaging area of the hospital where the incident took place.
Vaught admitted his mistake as soon as he realized it, and the state medical council did not initially take action against it. The finger point started only after the Medicare Centers and Medicaid Services learned of the error and made a surprise check at Vanderbilt, according to Strianse.
“It was a game of high stakes on music chairs and a search for guilt,” Streins said. “When the music stopped, there was no RaDonda Vaught chair.
Murphy’s daughter-in-law Chandra Murphy testified on Tuesday as she cried as she remembered Charlene Murphy’s last days.
The two were preparing a Christmas dinner on December 24, 2017, when the older woman began to complain about her vision. Chandra Murphy persuaded her to go to the emergency room, where they found a brain hemorrhage. Murphy was transferred to the Vanderbilt Intensive Care Unit, but was improving before the incident, Chandra Murphy testified.
She was in the hospital with her mother-in-law when she was taken downstairs for a PET scan and saw her again when she was returned upstairs, surrounded by doctors trying to save her life.
“How the hell can you take someone down for a PET scan and bring her back?” She asked. “In principle, they took her down well and brought her back dead.”
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Death by accidental injection of the wrong medicine: Former nurse in the process
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