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UMMS must pay family $10 million in malpractice suit

A Baltimore jury awarded a Gwynn Oak family $10 million this week after finding the University of Maryland Medical System gave their relative a drug that destroyed his colon and led to his death.

The family of Dennis Allen said he died in 2013 after doctors gave him Kayexalate, which is used on people who have too much potassium in their body. The drug pulls potassium from the blood into the colon, where it is then released through a bowel movement.


A University of Maryland Medical Center doctor who prescribed the drug for Allen didn't know the complications it causes, including sometimes harming the colon, the family's lawyers argued in court. They also said he could have used dialysis, which they argued is a safer option, to bring down the potassium levels.

The University of Maryland Medical System said in a statement that it was "extremely disappointed" by the verdict, which it said appears was based on sympathy. The medical system said it plans to appeal the case.


"We maintain our position that not only was the care rendered to Mr. Allen stellar, but that the Plaintiff's case was wholly lacking in evidence that met the requisite legal standard," the statement said. "The jury inaccurately concluded that Mr. Allen died due to the administration of one dose of Kayexalate — the standard of care given to tens of millions of patients for the condition from which Mr. Allen suffered."

Attorney Laura Zois said Allen's family was happy that the medical system was held accountable and they hoped the verdict helped prevent other patients from being harmed.

"The family felt vindicated that their father and husband's story was finally told," Zois said. "Otherwise, their father's death would have been in vain."

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Allen was admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center in March 2013 because of kidney problems, Zois said. During his stay, he developed high potassium levels and doctors gave him Kayexalate.

After taking the drug, Allen's wife noticed blood in his stool. Zois said it took several hours before medical staff conducted tests and determined something was wrong with his colon.

Allen went into surgery with the family expecting that parts of his colon would be removed, but doctors had to remove the whole organ, Zois said. He died the day after surgery.

The family sued last year.

A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine said that "colonic necrosis" — or cell death — is a "rare, but potentially avoidable" side effect of Kayexalate.