Dempsey Kingsland Osteen recently received national recognition for its February 2016 trial of Carl Oyler et al v. Hy-Vee, Inc. The story, featured on the front page of April 28, 2016 edition of The Washington Post, tells the tragic tale of the death of Joyce Oyler and highlights the dangers patients face when transitioning from hospital to home. The case revolved around a medication error by Hy-Vee Pharmacy that led to the tragic death of a caring wife and loving mother.
Kristin Sigg discovered her mother had been given a highly toxic cancer drug, not a heart medicine, after her hospitalization. Joyce Oyler died less than three weeks later. (Travis Young/Austin Walsh Studio for KHN)
In October, 2013 Joyce Oyler was recovering from a fluid build-up in her lungs at Heartland Regional Medical Center. During her hospitalization, she was prescribed a diuretic, Metolazone, to alleviate the fluid build-up in her lungs.
Upon Joyce Oyler’s discharge from the hospital a nurse called into Hy-Vee Pharmacy eight new prescription medications. Numerous mistakes were made when a Hy-Vee Pharmacy tech recorded the phoned-in prescriptions.
Among the mistakes made by the pharmacy tech was that she wrote down “Methotrexate” instead of “Metolazone.” While Metolazone is a harmless diuretic, Methotrexate, in the dosage recorded, is a chemotherapy drug prescribed to cancer patients.
If taken improperly, methotrexate can damage blood cell counts, organs and the lining of the mouth, stomach and intestines. The drug is so potent that the Institute for Safe Medication Practices includes it among eight “high-alert” medications with consequences so “devastating” that they warrant special safeguards against incorrect dispensing. Joyce Oyler’s prescription included daily dosage instructions for the diuretic. Methotrexate is never supposed to be taken more than once or twice a week for patients not being treated for cancer, and almost always at a much lower dose.
Joyce Oyler’s husband, Carl Oyler, picked up the prescription medications including the erroneous prescription for Methotrexate. Joyce Oyler took the medication as directed on the prescription bottles until she began to suffer from fever, congestion, diarrhea, mouth sores, nose bleeds, bleeding bowels, and other physical ailments.
Joyce’s family rushed her to the hospital where Joyce was diagnosed with pancytopenia, a condition where the body cannot produce enough blood cells due to damage in the bone marrow stem cells. Her condition continued to decline and she experienced multiple organ failure. Joyce Oyler died 21 days after first taking the erroneously dispensed Methotrexate. Her cause of death was determined to be Methotrexate Toxicity.
Joyce Oyler’s cause of action went to trial in February of 2016. During trial, evidence was presented that indicated there was “a breakdown in the system,” which kept the medication error from being caught by Hy-Vee Pharmacy staff. At the conclusion of trial the jury returned a verdict of $2 million dollars in favor of Joyce Oyler’s family.
You can read the Washington Post’s story about Mrs. Oyler here.