Pretoria GP ‘100% liable’ after failed SMS warning of deadly diagnosis

Organisation: Position: Deadline Date: Location:
Boucher

Maritza Boucher

Dr Jurgen Odendaal, a Pretoria East general practitioner, whose SMS messages to a patient warning of a cerebral malaria diagnosis were sent to a no-longer operable cellphone number, was ‘100% liable’ for the ensuing death, a Gauteng High Court judge has ruled.

Odendaal’s conduct was so worrisome to the judge that she has referred her judgment in this regard to the Health professions Council of South Africa, for further action.

According to a Pretoria News report, this was after Pretoria paramedic Anthony Boucher died of cerebral malaria on 19 March, 2015. His wife, Maritza Boucher, instituted a damages claim in the Gauteng High Court Pretoria, against Dr Jurgen Jacobus Odendaal.

The report says the final amount of damages claimed must still be quantified, but she is claiming for loss of support for herself and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter.

Acting Judge H Barnes found that the doctor was 100% liable for the damages which the widow could prove that she had suffered. Experts who testified on her behalf agreed that if Odendaal had acted earlier in ensuring that Anthony was told that he had tested positive for Falciparum malaria, he could have still been alive today. This strand of malaria is potentially fatal.

The report says Odendaal, who was the Boucher’s house doctor for years, testified that he had sent several text messages to Anthony to inform him of the test results. The problem was that he had sent it to his patient’s old cellphone number and these messages never reached Anthony. The doctor did not bother to establish whether it was the correct number after he received no response from his patient. The new number, as well as his wife and brother’s contact details were on the patient’s file, but he also did not bother to check these numbers.

The report says the doctor, who handled his own defence, also testified that he had sent whatsApp messages to Anthony. But the court found this was not true, as it was testified on behalf of Vodacom that one cannot send a WhatsApp message if the person’s number is not in your contact list. The judge questioned that, even if this was true, why did the doctor not notice that that there was no blue tick next to the message, meaning that Antony never received the message.

The report says another untruth was the fact that the doctor claimed that when he could not get hold of the patient to give him the news that he immediately had to receive treatment for his malaria, he faxed a script for Halfan medication to Faerie Glen Pharmacy. The experts in any event agreed that Halfan was an outdated medication and not suitable in this case.

The widow, who claimed that her husband had died as a result of the doctor’s negligence, said he went to work in Liberia shortly before he fell ill. He worked on a project involving the setting up of Ebola treatment centres.

When he came back, he fell ill and he suspected that he had contracted malaria. He went to see his doctor a few days later – on the Friday – and the latter took a blood sample for testing. The doctor said he would contact the patient as soon as he got the results. He also diagnosed him with a bladder infection and gave him antibiotics.

Boucher said her husband got sicker over the next few days and they had heard nothing from the doctor. She sent the doctor a message on the Wednesday to say her husband’s eyeballs had turned yellow and she asked the doctor to call her husband. She also in vain tried to phone the doctor. As she was about to leave work to check-up on her husband, she received an SMS from Odendaal, who said he had been trying to get hold of her husband since the weekend to tell him he urgently needed medication as he had malaria. The report says Anthony subsequently died a few days later in hospital.

It was said that if the doctor ensured that he got hold of Anthony on the previous Friday when he got the results, the latter could have survived as his malaria count was still fairly low. The report says the judge frowned upon Odendaal’s claims that he also tried to phone his patient. She said if this was true, he would have realised it was the wrong number. The doctor claimed his phone was stolen and he did not realise it was not the correct number. Vodacom records showed the phone was not stolen during that time.

Both Boucher and her lawyer Johnny Maree, said they were very happy with the judgment.

Pretoria News report

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