Medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US
| June 2, 2022
They were supposed to be getting a strong painkiller for a simple but invasive procedure. Instead, they were getting saline.
Now, after realizing what happened, thanks largely to a letter from the Department of Justice and a criminal investigation, dozens of women are suing the Yale University Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Clinic for allegedly leaving them open to agony as they underwent a medical procedure.
According to a Tuesday article in the Connecticut Post, the women say they were undergoing egg retrieval at the medical center when staff gave them ineffective salt water instead of fentanyl.
“The result was that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women underwent the most painful fertility surgeries and procedures offered at the REI Clinic with little or no analgesia,” the lawsuit alleges.
The tales are horrific, with one patient describing the pain as “excruciating.”
Angela Cortese, 33, of Vernon, Connecticut, originally had her eggs retrieved on Dec. 3, 2019.
She said the procedure was so painful a nurse was wiping tears from her eyes. Meanwhile, she was trying “not to flinch every time they’re using this giant needle to retrieve the follicles.”
“I want to say it was probably around 45 minutes that I was very much aware of what exactly was happening and feeling every pinch and prod,” Cortese said. “And it doesn’t feel like somebody’s just pinching you. It feels like somebody’s stabbing you through your vagina. It was horrific.”
When Cortese underwent the procedure, she was told that anesthesia wasn’t available.
“They said I was getting the fentanyl and [the sedative] Versed, that I shouldn’t really be aware of anything,” Cortese said. “It would be quick. I’d be in and out and on my way.”
It wasn’t. The retrieval procedure was so excruciating that Cortese’s blood pressure and heart rate shot up; she received bruises on her arm because the blood pressure cuff continued to tighten around it.
“I was awake for and aware of the entire procedure,” she said.
“Thinking about it was horrific. I try really not to think about it, honestly … you’re in the most vulnerable position you could possibly be in and you’ve got a team of nurses and doctors and they’re using a hollow needle to do the procedure vaginally and … I watched the entire thing.”
During the second procedure, on June 9, 2020, she was given anesthesia — but again, she said, she got saline instead of fentanyl.
“I woke up in the middle of the procedure to them telling me that I was in distress and that they couldn’t proceed anymore,” she said. “They had gone through my bladder.” No eggs were retrieved.
Cortese was hardly the only one. A total of 59 patients and 47 spouses have signed on to the lawsuit, which alleges “carelessness and recklessness” on the part of Yale.
The problem was a “diversion” of the fentanyl stored at Yale REI. Nurse Donna Monticone, now 49, began stealing the strong opioid painkiller for her own use, taking over 75 percent of it during a five-month period.
According to a May 2021 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut, Monticone “accessed secure storage areas and took vials of fentanyl, used a syringe to withdraw the narcotics from the vials, and reinjected saline into vials so that it would appear as if none of the narcotics were missing.”
She was sentenced to serve four alternating weekends in jail and three months of home confinement. In addition, she’s serving three years of supervised release.
Cortese, a public defender, wasn’t terribly impressed with the sentence the nurse received — particularly after finding out Monticone herself was an IVF patient.
“I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. She had a really great public defender,” Cortese said.
The women in the lawsuit said Yale dismissed their concerns when they talked about the pain they experienced during the procedure, according to The Associated Press.
The suit says Yale REI providers “were alerted to the problem with its supply of fentanyl … through patients’ intraoperative screams and postoperative reports of torturous pain.”
“Yale’s failure to develop and implement safety measures mandated by state and federal law to secure drugs like fentanyl resulted in these patients being traumatized,” said Joshua Koskoff, one of the lawyers in the IVF suit, after it was filed in November.
“What should have been a time of hope for these women and their families became one of unimaginable suffering.”
Victoria Seidl, 35, is another of the patients suing Yale. The lawsuit alleges she was given saline instead of fentanyl as well and “experienced excruciating pain.”
“I remember being out for, I don’t know how long it was, but then feeling like such a sharp, stinging pain and like being fully awake, coherent,” she said.
“You’re trying to be strong, you’re just powering through because you know what the end goal is … and you’re trying to be strong for your family and your husband and your child and you just know, ultimately it will all be worth it,” she said.
Seidl said that after the procedure, she received a letter from Yale notifying her about the medical mix-up.
“It was a vague letter,” she said. “And it just said there was a nurse that was replacing saline with some of the fentanyl, and you may have been affected.”
“It wasn’t until a few days later that I got a letter from the Department of Justice with the nurse’s name stating, ‘Victoria Seidl, you have been a victim of a federal crime.’ I fell to my knees then, because you never think you’re going to be a victim of something like that.”
The embryo retrieved from Seidl’s ovary didn’t attach when it was implanted. Now, she wonders if the procedure had anything to do with it.
“You will always wonder. The pain that your body went through, the stress and the trauma,” she said. “Did the stress put a toll on your body that ultimately I was so stressed out that it didn’t latch on because of pain? Did my uterus heal properly?
“These are questions that I ask myself many times.”
While that’s entirely speculative, the pain these women felt is real. One hopes a court is able to properly provide redress for the agony they suffered.