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Health: The Choice Between Life & Death

stephanie-web Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3 and The CW Philly 57’s Emmy Award-win...
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By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A South Jersey man lost his limbs because of complications from a common infection, that he says should have never happened.

Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has the exclusive report.

Chris Mohrmann has figured out how to use an iPad with his nose.  It’s just one of many remarkable feats this quadruple amputee manages every day.  His arms below the elbow were surgically removed, along with the lower part of both legs.

“It’s been hard for me and my family.  It’s not an easy thing to live with,” said Chris.

A catastrophe that started when 35-year-old Chris,  a former marine, went to the emergency department at Virtua Berlin Hospital back in June of 2010.  He was vomiting and had muscle cramps.  Chris’ wife says doctors initially told her he was dehydrated.

Actually Chris had something much more dangerous, sepsis.  It’s a type of blood poisoning caused by an infection.

“It’s incredibly common, and it’s very costly in terms of the toll that it takes on patients and family members in the short and long term,” said Dr. Mark Mikkelsen, Assistant Director of Medical ICU with Penn Medicine.  He wasn’t involved with Chris’ case.  He says sepsis is a growing problem.  Up to 30 percent of sepsis patients die.

“If we don’t recognize it, and we don’t treat it then that’s a story where the body response can get out of control,” said Dr. Mikkelsen.

With his condition deteriorating fast, Chris was transferred to two other hospitals.  But the sepsis continued to spread causing extensive tissue damage.  With Chris in an induced coma, his wife Tina had to make the horrifying decision, amputate or let him die.

“I was in shock.  I mean I love him.  I wasn’t about to let him go.  He was 31 at the time.  I got through it.  I dealt with it,” said Tina.

Chris remembers finally waking up and realizing his limbs were gone.

“It was obviously very heartbreaking because I knew that the life that I had known up until then was over,” said Chris.

“There is no excuse,” said Joe Messa, Chris’ attorney.  Chris filed a lawsuit.  Messa believes the medical staff at Virtua Berlin should have recognized and treated the signs of sepsis sooner.  Chris was breathing fast, had a rapid heartbeat, and low blood pressure.

“Mr. Mohrmann sat in the emergency department for 12 hours essentially receiving no treatment for his condition which lead to this cascade of events resulting in his arms and legs being amputated,” said Messa.

In a legal filing, Virtua said in part the “… alleged injuries… were caused by… but not limited to pre-existing medical, genetic and/or environmental conditions…”

When we called the hospital to learn more about its position we got this response, “Virtua is unable to discuss individual treatment for any patient out of respect for patient privacy.”

“I’m angry, very angry.  I think it could have been prevented,” said Tina.

Chris mostly relies on a wheelchair.  He’s adapting, working through his depression, but still worrying  about the future.

“There’s not much choice.  I can either just cry all day, which isn’t going to change anything, or just try to make the most of it,” said Chris.

Chris who was a truck driver can’t work anymore.  For now he depends on disability and is hoping to get enough money from the lawsuit for the future.

Doctors still don’t know what caused the sepsis.  It may have been an infected cut on Chris’ foot.

Sepsis Information- http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000666.htm

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