Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Monday, September 15, 2008

Double tragedy

Medical-error lawsuits were 
not always hidden from view

By David Baker
Posted Sept. 10, 2008

On February 27, 1985, Lillian Cedeno of Schenectady was in Albany Medical Center Hospital for chemotherapy to treat her cancer.

Three days later she was paralyzed and in a coma after two doctors injected a drug into her spine instead of a vein.

At first Albany Med managers kept quiet about the terrible mistake. But someone connected with the hospital tipped off local newspapers. A week later the story was printed and broadcast across the country.

Lillian Cedeno was 21. She was five and a half months pregnant. The baby, a girl, was delivered by Cesarean section, but she developed breathing difficulties and died three weeks later.

Lillian Cedeno never regained consciousness. She also died, three months after the appalling error.

These details, and most of the information that follows in this article came not from the pages of a lawsuit – as information about more recent cases that have been reported here have done – but from press accounts at the time.

The local papers were first. Then The New York Times. At least one radio network, NBC, aired the initial story and several follow-ups provided by reporters at its local affiliate, WGY.

And today, thanks to the Internet, most of the information made public then is now available, without leaving home.

But that is not the case with more recent medical errors. That’s because starting about 10 years ago, newspapers in the Capital Region stopped reporting the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits, even ones alleging mistakes widely considered indefensible, such as leaving a surgical sponge inside a patient as employees at Albany Memorial Hospital were alleged to have done in a case reported on this page back in May.

So now the only way to find out about these lawsuits is to go to each of the county clerks’ offices, search the records and ask to see the files. In Albany County there is a limit of five files per visit. And if you want a copy of any of the documents, it costs 65 cents a page.

Most people aren’t going to do that. And no one apparently has thought of collecting that information and making it available, permanently and in one place.

Until now.