Health Care

VA inflated catheter in Missouri man's penis, causing bleeding then death, suit says

A lawsuit filed in federal court Friday says that staff at the Kansas City VA Medical Center improperly inflated a catheter inside a man's penis, causing him to contract a blood infection and die.

Gilbert Harris visited the VA facility at 4801 Linwood Blvd. on May 12, 2016, according to the suit. Harris, 52, had multiple sclerosis and a traumatic brain injury and was living in a nursing home.

The suit says he was seen at the VA's urology clinic for neurogenic bladder, a common complication of multiple sclerosis that causes the bladder to become overactive or underactive.

An unnamed medical provider removed Harris' catheter and inserted a new one, according to the suit. By the time Harris returned to the nursing home that night, he was "noted to have a fever and large amounts of blood and clotting at the end of his penis."

He was taken by ambulance to the Nevada Regional Medical Center in Southwest Missouri, where he was diagnosed with an acute urinary tract infection and sepsis — a blood infection — and taken back to the VA.

A CT scan there "revealed that the Foley catheter with balloon inflated within the penile urethra" rather than in Harris' bladder, the suit says.

The catheter was replaced in the emergency room, but Harris went into septic shock and died May 16, 2016.

Dwayne Rider, a spokesman for the Kansas City VA Medical Center, said patient privacy rules prevent the facility from talking about the care Harris received. He referred questions about the suit to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which defends the VA in civil litigation.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said, "I don’t suspect we’ll be in a position to comment or have a response at this time.”

Urinary tract infections caused by bacteria in catheters are relatively common medical complications. But damage and infections caused specifically by the misplacement of a catheter are more rare and can be prevented through practices like monitoring urine output before and after the catheter is placed.

The suit was filed by Harris' widow, Patricia, who lives in Moundville, Mo. It seeks unspecified damages for her being deprived of his companionship and for the "great conscious physical pain and mental anguish" that Harris suffered before he died.