Bloomington malpractice surgeon Ricardo Vasquez death Kathryn Espinoza
When a plaque-constricted femoral artery began causing pain in Kathryn Espinoza’s left leg, the 59-year-old Bloomington woman scheduled elective outpatient medical intervention.
A doctor would insert a catheter into the artery through a small incision in the groin, then inflate a tied balloon to remove the blockage. She should have been home, with a bandage over the incision, in time for supper with her teenage son.
She went to the outpatient surgery department in UI Health Bloomington Hospital on the morning of November 19, 2012, for an endovascular procedure at 11 a.m. which usually takes less than an hour.
But 27 hours after Ricardo Vasquez, MD, performed the angioplasty, Espinoza was dead. The catheter he was using had ruptured in the artery, leading to a cascade of complications resulting in “acute retroperitoneal hemorrhage”.
Kathryn Espinoza died of an arterial hemorrhage that filled her abdominal cavity and caused organ failure and cardiac arrest.
The standard of care
A medical review board of three doctors from Indiana investigated the case five years later and determined that Vasquez “had failed to meet the proper standard of care and that his conduct was a factor in the resulting damage” which resulted in the death of Espinoza.
Two of those doctors testified in an August trial in Monroe Circuit Court. On August 30, after hearing six days of testimony in a medical malpractice lawsuit, jurors rendered a judgment of $ 600,000 against Vasquez and his firm, Southern Indiana Vascular and Vein Center.
What the jurors did not know was that two other medical examination boards, one in December 2010 and the other in September 2020, had unanimously concluded that the care provided by Vasquez “was not not meeting appropriate standards of care “, which they say contributed to the deaths of two other patients.
One was a 67 year old Orleans man, father of four sons and grandfather of six, who died at IU Health Bloomington Hospital on September 19, 2008. The other was a 61 year old man from Heltonville who died in August 2016 A celebration of his life was held at Lake Monroe.
The long day
Espinoza’s son, Wesley Thorpe, is now 23 years old. The jury award in last month’s trial compensates him, at least financially, for the “lost love, care, affection and support” of the woman who adopted him when he was 4 years old. He was 16 when Espinoza died.
She had let him stay home from school on the Monday of the procedure. He called her several times that afternoon, but she never answered. He expected his cousin to take her home, but after dark he started to worry.
“I wondered where she was,” he recalls. “Then my cousin picked me up and we went to the hospital.”
He went to his mother’s bedside. She was receiving blood infusions and was half conscious. He said he loved her, the last words she heard him say. She mumbled back, “I love you too,” her eyes closed.
“We stayed until 12:30 or 1 a.m.,” Thorpe said. “We wanted to talk to the doctor, but we couldn’t find him. The nurses said they couldn’t find him.”
The case against Vasquez alleged that he failed to diagnose or take steps to repair a vascular injury he inadvertently caused during the procedure.
“Within 8 pm, Dr Vasquez allowed the patient to bleed to death without providing proper medical interventions,” said Michael Woody, one of the attorneys representing Espinoza’s family.
Dr Vasquez opened his clinic in Bloomington in 2007, a year after moving to town, and joined a team of doctors in a well-established vascular surgery practice.
Court records in a federal lawsuit Vasquez filed in June 2021 alleging that IU Health created an unfair monopoly on medical services in Bloomington show that he received a medical degree from the University of Iowa in 1996. Vasquez then completed a surgical residency at Mount Sinai Medical School at Cabrini Medical Center in New York City.
He earned a vascular surgery scholarship at Boston University Medical Center, then taught vascular surgery techniques at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Urbana, where he also performed surgeries.
He was chief of staff at Bloomington’s Monroe Hospital from 2010 to 2015, where he still has privileges and is in good standing, according to his testimony at trial on August 30.
Following a peer review process in 2019, IU Health Bloomington Hospital did not renew Dr Vasquez’s privileges to practice or perform medical procedures there.
Indianapolis-based malpractice attorney Terry Park worked on the Espinoza case for eight years on behalf of Thorpe. She and other lawyers in her firm consulted with a forensic expert and expected an out-of-court settlement after receiving the medical review board’s decision in 2017.
Park said Indiana’s physician review boards convict physicians in less than 20% of the cases they consider. When doctors are found at fault, cases are more often than not settled out of court, with confidentiality clauses to prevent those involved from revealing the details of the resolution.
This case, however, has been tried. “He wouldn’t solve it, even after losing to the review board,” Park said. “For a long time, Dr. Vasquez has singled out other people in this matter, blaming the catheter maker at one point. And that prolonged the matter.”
Medical device maker Cook Inc. was named a co-accused but was dismissed from the lawsuit, court records show after a $ 75,000 settlement was reached in December 2020.
Cook made the Vasquez catheter used in the Espinoza procedure. On January 4, Holley Harvey, a Monroe circuit judge, dismissed Cook from the lawsuit, ruling out a product defect.
The agreement between Cook Inc. and the plaintiff is confidential, and neither Woody nor Park would discuss it. But the jury’s verdict against Vasquez reflects a compensation of $ 75,000, from the financial settlement with Cook, which reduces the amount Vasquez owes to $ 525,000.
On September 10, Louisville attorney Rachel Dalton, one of Vasquez’s attorneys, filed a motion to reduce the jury’s price to $ 250,000, the amount for which the doctor is insured. Harvey has scheduled a hearing on the matter for November 1.
Dalton did not return a call seeking comment on the Vasquez case and the verdict.
Woody explained that Indiana Patient Compensation Fund pays the difference between the insurance limit and a jury’s financial reward for survivors. This fund, funded by premiums from physician malpractice insurance, will pay the variance of $ 325,000 in the Vasquez case, Woody said.
His law firm, Findling Park Conyers Woody & Sniderman, gets 32% of the damages. It’s $ 192,000.
The maximum amount that a jury can currently award for medical malpractice in Indiana is $ 1.25 million. Woody expected this, but assumed jurors based the price on the two years Thorpe spent without his mother’s care from the time of her death until he was 18.
“It totally disrupted his life,” said Woody. “He was 16 years old.
The trial, which began with jury selection on August 9, also took its toll on Park.
Six jurors and a deputy were chosen to hear the evidence. On the third day, one of the jurors was fired because he had taken his trial notes home to review them, which they had been ordered not to do. The alternate intervened.
The next day, August 12, Park was cross-examining defense witness Peter Faries, MD, when she suffered a subdural hemorrhage, a type of stroke, in the courtroom.
An ambulance transported Park from Zietlow Justice Center to IU Health Bloomington Hospital. Court proceedings ended early that day.
On August 13, Bloomington’s doctor and lawyer Spencer Goodson, who had acted as counsel in the case, finished questioning Faries. Harvey authorized a continuation after that, and the trial resumed on August 30 for its last day, without Park. Woody intervened.
“The doctors wouldn’t let me come back to finish the case and I was heartbroken because I had been there for so long,” Park said. “I couldn’t even go back and watch the end.”
The jury began its deliberations at 7.20 p.m. on August 30 and reconvened with a verdict at 11 p.m. “I wasn’t there, but I was on the phone with Wesley when the verdict came,” Park said.
Wesley Thorpe was the nephew of Espinoza, his brother’s son, and Espinoza took in the boy after his father’s death. Thorpe grew up with her in Bloomington, and they were a small but close family. He was attending Bloomington Graduation School when she died.
An aunt from Texas has been appointed her guardian. When his mother died, “my whole world fell on me,” he said. He had to take his cat to the animal shelter, then walked away.
He returned to Bloomington a few years ago “because it is the place where you feel like home”.
Contact reporter Laura Lane at [email protected], 812-331-4362 or 812-318-5967.