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Virginia—a Fairfax County jury awarded nearly $3 million to the family of Hector Alvarez, a 52-year-old man who died after an Alexandria, VA radiologist incorrectly diagnosed Alvarez with a hiatal hernia. Instead, Alvaraz suffered from a torn esophagus, and died just a few weeks after his initial trip to the hospital. However, because of Virginia’s medical malpractice caps, the jury’s initial reward will be cut in half to about $1.25 million.

Alvarez first went to the Inova HealthPlex at Franconia-Springfield on July 6, 2006, complaining of chest pains and trouble swallowing. In fact, Alvarez had attempted to eat a piece of barbequed steak prior to experiencing the chest pains and problems swallowing, and told doctors that the meat had become lodged in his throat and “felt like it went down the wrong way”. Doctors then proceeded to give Alvarez a number of tests including X-rays, an EKG and a CT scan of his chest. That information was then electronically sent to Dr. William J. Dunwoody, III, a radiologist with the Association of Alexandria Radiologists who was working at Inova Alexandria Hospital that night. Dr. Dunwoody concluded that Alvarez was suffering from a hiatal hernia.

Doctors at Inova HealthPlex continued to treat Alvarez with various oral medications, but his pain did not decrease. Finally, at about midnight on July 7, 2006, Alvarez was transported by ambulance to Inova Fairfax Hospital. Eventually, a surgeon at that hospital spotted Alvarez’s torn esophagus from the original CT scan and ordered that Alvarez undergo an immediate surgery to repair his damaged esophagus. Furthermore, he also ordered that Alvarez be given an epidural catheter so that he would be prepared to receive pain medication after the surgery. Unfortunately, after the catheter was inserted, Alvarez reportedly went into cardiac arrest and suffered irreparable brain damage. He subsequently died on July 17, 2006. Alvarez retired from a career in the Air Force and worked as an IT specialist for the Defense Information Systems Agency. He was married with two adult children and is remembered as “an extremely nice guy”.

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