HONOLULU – The widow and children of a man who went to a rural Hawaii health center with a sore throat in 2013 and ended up dead will receive a $4.2 million settlement from the federal government, the widow's lawyer said Wednesday.
Antonio Marrero, 32, went to the emergency room of Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, where a doctor determined he had an abscess in his tonsils and arranged for him to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, lawyer Richard Fried said.
Then the doctor decided to further evaluate him under sedation, but Marrero lost consciousness and died, Fried said.
Before sedating him, the doctor should have known Marrero weighed nearly 300 pounds, which would make it difficult to protect his airway, the lawsuit filed by Fried said. There was no anesthesiologist there, and the doctor gave Marrero too much of the sedative drug, Fried said.
At a news conference in Fried's office to announce the settlement, Marrero's wife, Rachel, recalled her shock when she was told that the father of her three young sons had died.
She told health center workers: "He just had a sore throat, what do you mean he passed?"
After the news conference, the health center's executives hugged her and offered condolences.
"Our providers work tirelessly to assure that the best quality of care is given to our patients, and we grieve that in this case things occurred the way they did and we have this unfortunate outcome," Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Bradley said.
The executives declined to disclose the emergency doctor's name, but the lawsuit named Dr. Robert Bonham. Bradley later released a statement from Bonham where he offered condolences and said he couldn't provide details about the case because of an ongoing formal review.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is conducting the review, Bradley said.
Marrero said she was hopeful that the health center, known locally as "the comp," will follow through with promised steps to make sure that a similar death never happens again.
The health center implemented changes after the death, including a new emergency room director overseeing operations and a full-time chief compliance officer who is also an attorney. A new emergency room facility is scheduled to be completed within a year, though plans for that were underway before the incident, Bradley said.
"I don't hate or judge," Marrero said. "I just hope that the comp does make everything better for other families."
The federal government will pay the settlement because the center is a federally qualified community nonprofit health center that's insured by the Federal Tort Claims Act, said center President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Bettini. "In exchange, we take anyone regardless of ability to pay," he said.
Fried praised the settlement and said people living in west Oahu's Waianae community should feel comfortable receiving care there.
He noted that Bettini arranged for money to be set aside for the family's living expenses while they waited for the settlement, which was reached last year but required about a year of federal approvals.
Marrero said her maintenance mechanic husband stayed home with his sore throat for about a week, struggling to eat and suffering fevers. When his vacation time ran out, he went back to work, where his employers advised him to seek medical attention, she said.
"He went right after work, and he never came home," she said.
She called her husband a "gentle giant" who provided for his family.
"We had kids, got married, bought our house," she said. "It was a dream come true for me."
The structured settlement will pay a fixed monthly amount for the remainder of the lives of Marrero and her children, Fried said.
One of the first things she's doing with the money is rebuilding their home that burned down just a few days before Christmas in 2014, she said. "It won't ever bring my husband back," she said.