By Emily Spectre, Daily North Shore
When trial attorney Christopher Hurley successfully tried a case on a behalf of a family whose wife and mother had died from sustained hypoxia in a hospital emergency room, he could have stored the case file and moved on. Instead, the Winnetka resident decided to address the underlying problem.
During the trial, Hurley realized the emergency room doctors, while well-intentioned, were inadequately trained. It took the doctors a half hour to secure an airway for his client, who was having an asthma attack. Hurley recognized that with proper training the result would have been different for his client and others suffering similar circumstances.
Hurley contacted the hospital and offered to reduce the settlement amount in exchange for putting the doctors through a course on airway management, but the hospital rejected his offer. Instead of giving up, Hurley decided to contact Dr. Ron Walls, author of the book Manual of Emergency Airway Management, which Hurley had relied on during the litigation. The company that published the manual offers training courses.
Dr. Walls was receptive to the idea of offering a course at a local hospital. Likewise, NorthShore University HealthSystem was interested in partnering in this venture. Hurley and his wife made a sizable donation to the NorthShore Foundation to sponsor a course held on November 17 and 18 at the Grainger Center at Evanston Hospital. “It was fun to develop a relationship. They were good to work with because they are doing something to save lives,” Hurley said.
The course provided training to 30 emergency room physicians from hospitals around Chicagoland. The training simulated emergencies so that the doctors could learn how to respond and act under pressure and then critique one another's performance. “It is something I think should be mandatory for anybody in an emergency room,” Hurley told DailyNorthShore.com.
Hurley has found the doctors were receptive to the training. “It has been really rewarding to share an idea of how to make the world a better place,” Hurley said. Where doctors and lawyers are frequently seen as foes, in this instance they worked together. “For me as a lawyer I wanted to see more of a collaboration between doctors and lawyers,” Hurley said. “It is often an adversarial relationship but it doesn't have to be.”
While Hurley has ample litigation experience where his clients were seriously injured, this case left an impression. “The doctors seemed intimidated by this emergency,” he said. The idea that education could solve the problem inspired Hurley to take action. “I viewed this as a way to be a part of solving the problem,” he said.
Hurley compared the medical community to the aviation industry. When an airplane crashes, the aviation industry studies what happened to understand the underlying cause. Airplanes are one of the safest ways to travel, because that information is shared all around the world. Not so in medicine, according to Hurley. When a bad outcome occurs, that information tends to stay with the group of medical professionals who experienced it. Hurley hopes the medical community will begin to embrace sharing information. “This was a great way to share information for the purpose of educating everybody,” Hurley said.
Moving forward, Hurley hopes to hold more courses at other hospitals. He also would like to see other lawyers get involved and share what they've learned from their own cases. “We can make the world a better place. That is the goal,” Hurley said.