Parents file suit over daughter's death

January 11, 2008 8:54:56 PM PST
A court fight has begun over the seemingly needless death of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student last September, of bacterial meningitis. A lawsuit accuses the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania of misdiagnosing Anne Ryan.

But the hospital says there is more to the story.

Ryan walked into the emergency room complaining of nausea, a stiff neck, and a fever. They would seem to be textbook symptoms of meningitis, which can be cured if caught early and treated aggressively with antibiotics.

The family's attorney, Thomas Kline, said the doctors' decision not to give Ryan antibiotics was wrong.

"If antibiotics had been given, there is no doubt in my mind that Anne would have been saved," Kline said.

But the hospital says it is not that cut and dry.

In a statement issued today, hospital officials said: "Ms. Ryan's symptoms were not classic for Meningitis."

Action News has obtained medical records that reveal how, in her initial diagnosis, doctors were apparently focusing on ruling out meningitis.

We showed those records to the hospital's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. P.J. Brennan, and pointed out the notation of "r" slash "o" next to the word "meningitis."

" R, O means 'rule out,'" Brennan said, but added that he thought that the doctors treating Anne Ryan were considering meningitis.

Doctors did order a spinal tap performed on Ryan to determine if she had the infection. The test came back negative.

Medical experts said such a negative test result for a meningitis patient is not rare because of the speed with which the bacteria can spread through the body.

Was it such a situation that doctors were confronted with that September day?

"We stand by the facts as we understand them," Brennan said. "and by the performance of the doctors and nurses who were involved in Anne Ryan's care."

But the attorney for Ryan's family said the minimal treatment for Anne Ryan should have included antibiotics and being kept for observation.

"It couldn't be a greater tragedy than for a parent to lose a child in the prime of life, with the brightest of futures in front of her," Kline said.