Tracheotomy Complications and Errors Can Have Devastating Consequences

Patient With a TracheotomyA tracheotomy, also known as tracheostomy, is a medical procedure that's often used to help a patient breathe, usually after significant facial injuries or trauma. While the procedure is generally considered safe, complications can and do occur. In some cases, these complications may be the result of a tracheotomy surgical error. If you or a loved one sustained injuries following a routine tracheotomy procedure, you may be entitled to compensation. Understanding the procedure and your legal options  can help you decide how best to proceed. 

What Is a Tracheotomy?

A tracheotomy is a medical procedure in which doctors make an incision in the front of the neck, allowing them to insert a breathing tube into the trachea—more commonly known as the windpipe. The procedure allows the patient to breathe through the inserted tube rather than through the nose or mouth. The tracheotomy also allows the patient to be hooked up to a ventilator, if necessary.

Patients may require a tracheotomy procedure for a number of reasons, including:

  • Severe neck or facial cancer

  • Significant facial injuries

  • Recurrent pneumonia

  • Other breathing problems that require the temporary or long-term use of a ventilator

Tracheotomies may also be required in emergency situations. This procedure is known as a cricothyroidotomy. Emergency tracheotomy procedures can be particularly dangerous due to the rapid nature in which they're performed.

Percutaneous Versus Surgical Tracheotomies

Tracheotomies can be performed in one of two ways, both of which require the use of a general anesthetic. A percutaneous or “through the skin” tracheotomy is the most common tracheotomy technique and involves making a small incision in the front of the neck, inserting a needle through the incision and into the trachea, passing a guide-wire through the needle, and stretching the hole around it until it's large enough to accommodate the tracheotomy breathing tube. This procedure is usually performed in a hospital's intensive care unit.

An open surgical tracheotomy is usually performed in a hospital operating room and involves making a larger incision in the neck and cutting into the trachea itself, allowing for the immediate insertion of the breathing tube.

A doctor decides which tracheotomy technique is best, depending on the patient's particular condition and medical history.

Complications Associated With Tracheotomy Procedures

Tracheotomy complications can occur during or after the procedure. Complications that may happen during the tracheotomy procedure include:

  • Excessive bleeding

  • Damage to the esophagus

  • Damage to the laryngeal nerve that moves the vocal cords

  • Pneumothorax (air trapped around the lungs)

  • Pneumomediastinum (air trapped deep in the chest)

  • Subcutaneous emphysema (air trapped underneath the skin around the tracheotomy site)

  • Tube blockage due to blood clots, mucus, or pressure of the airway walls

  • Tube aspiration as seen in one 2014 case, when a patient's breathing tube broke and dislocated, causing aspiration, brain damage, and death

Complications that can occur after the procedure include:

  • Infection in the trachea and around the breathing tube

  • Erosion of the trachea

  • Development of granulation tissue

  • Narrowing of the airway

When a Tracheotomy Complication or Error Is Considered Negligence

Like most medical procedures, tracheotomies do carry a degree of risk, and not all complications and errors rise to the level of negligence or medical malpractice. In order to prove that medical malpractice occurred, you must be able to show that the medical provider did something that was inappropriate or failed to provide the accepted standard of care or treatment, and you were seriously harmed as a result.

Do You Need Help Pursuing Compensation for a Tracheotomy Error?

If you are living with complications following a tracheotomy that you believe were caused by negligence or medical malpractice, you may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries. Having an experienced medical malpractice attorney by your side may help strengthen your claim. Contact the Inland Empire Law Group today for a free consultation. Our knowledgeable legal team is ready to help you fight for the compensation that you deserve.