WILKES-BARRE — A pair of Geisinger medical professionals dominated testimony Thursday in the medical malpractice trial of a local doctor who died while under the care of one of the region’s largest health care providers.
Dr. Jennifer Sidari, 26, of West Pittston, died in 2013 at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville from what lawyers for her parents allege was a correctable condition that went undiagnosed and untreated while blood pooled behind a clot in the young doctor’s brain before eventually bursting like a dam.
Sidari, the oldest of three siblings, died just weeks before she was to begin a residency in pediatrics at Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2014 against Geisinger, lawyers claimed imaging of Sidari’s head should have been performed sooner. If they had, the looming blood clot would have been treatable and Sidari, a recent graduate of The Commonwealth Medical College and rising star in the medical field, would still be alive.
Too much delay?
On the second day of testimony Thursday in Luzerne County Court, Sidari family attorney Matt Casey questioned the doctor that ultimately ordered the head-imaging scans on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, two days after Sidari arrived at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township complaining of headaches and bruising on her arms and legs.
Dr. Jessica Zingaretti testified she had ordered the scans for Sidari on account of her low platelet count, a measure of the parts of the blood that help it clot. She noted Sidari was talking to her and looked “comfortable” when she saw her.
Casey, of Philadelphia law firm Ross Feller Casey LLP, argued the scans took more than two hours to happen, “far too long” for the sake of Zingaretti’s patient.
“There’s no question not getting them scheduled for two-and-a-half hours caused a delay in working up whatever was going on in Ms. Sidari’s head,” Casey said.
“There wasn’t a delay,” Zingaretti said. “I was continuing to work off of what was going on.”
Zingaretti said she was consulting with other staffers, getting results back and talking to Sidari, and didn’t place a call to question the time of the scans. It was also unclear what the hospital’s radiology department workload was like that day and whether it affected their ability to get to Sidari sooner, Zingaretti said.
“This is the patient you’re thinking could be having a stroke,” Casey said. “If you wanted to check into what’s going on with the delay, you could just pick up a phone and call.”
‘Is she contagious?’
Another Geisinger staffer who examined Sidari on May 28 said she began considering other possibilities when Sidari stopped responding to prednisone, a steroid used to treat inflammation.
Physician assistant Sandra Valenti, after over three-and-a-half hours of questioning by Casey, testified under direct examination by Geisinger attorney Benjamin Post that she wondered at one point whether Sidari had contracted a disease on recent trips to South Africa and Haiti.
“She’s not responding to these steroids, could something else be going on?” Valenti said of her thought process regarding Sidari. “She’s in a double room right next to a patient with a baby. I thought, ‘Is she contagious? Did she bring something back with her?’”
“You think about Ebola and different things coming out of other countries,” Valenti continued. “Do we need (Infectious Diseases) on board? Does she have an infection? She did get bit by a tick, she told us.”
Under redirect, Casey asked Valenti whether another doctor, Dr. Aneela Ali, had mentioned anything to her about whether Ali believed what was happening to Sidari was related to an infectious disease.
“Not that I can recall,” Valenti said.
As the hours passed in the hospital, both Valenti and Zingaretti said they witnessed Sidari experience neurological difficulties, including trouble beginning sentences while typing on her computer,missing the letter “P” on her keyboard and skipping words entirely.
“That’s a patient who might be having a stroke, isn’t it?” Casey asked.
Valenti, who was hired by Geisinger in 2008, said Sidari had passed neurological tests, but acknowledged a patient can still suffer a stroke despite those tests being normal.
In a taped deposition, Valenti later acknowledged there was “confusion” over what the next step was in Sidari’s treatment. When Valenti visited her room later, Sidari was on a stretcher surrounded by so many attendants that she couldn’t get to her.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Friday at 9 a.m. before Luzerne County Judge Lesa S. Gelb.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL