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$35 million awarded to Tinley woman
Misdiagnosis led to woman's brain damage; board expected to approve settlement today

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

A Tinley Park woman who suffered severe brain damage while having surgery at Oak Forest Hospital will get $35 million under a settlement expected to be approved today by the Cook County Board.

The payment to the family of Neveen Morkos, an Egyptian immigrant, is the highest medical negligence settlement ever paid by the county, litigation subcommittee chairman Peter Silvestri said.

"Here's a young woman — mother of two, wife, vital person — who walks into the hospital and comes out basically not living, though not dead," said Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park). "The amount is certainly large, but certainly justified. We try to do the right thing."

Cook County taxpayers will pay $20 million of the settlement; the county's insurance companies will pick up the rest. Silvestri said he and other committee members believed a jury could have forced a higher payment if the county did not settle.

Morkos' family hopes to use the money to bring her home. She has been rehabilitating at Burbank's Brentwood nursing home for six months.

"That's why we rushed this case, otherwise she might have wound up back in a county facility, back at Oak Forest, because she didn't have health insurance," said Morkos' attorney, Eugene Pavalon. "Now she'll be able to get the proper care she needs and be surrounded by a loving family."

Neveen Morkos, 30, and her husband, Hany, came to the United States in February 2004 to join her sister and his brother, who are also married. Christians living in a mostly Muslim country, the Morkos family sought to escape persecution, Pavalon said.

Both of them were college educated, Neveen with a degree in computer science and Hany in business. But neither spoke English, so Hany worked at a restaurant while Neveen cared for their children Halana, 6, and Victor, 3, Pavalon said.

Neveen Morkos started feeling sharp pains in her stomach May 19, 2004. With no insurance and ineligible for public aid as a recent immigrant, the only hospital Morkos could afford was Oak Forest. Like the other two county hospitals, Oak Forest accepts all patients, regardless of what they can pay.

Doctors diagnosed her with an inflamed appendix and ordered an emergency appendectomy. Doctors later discovered she had only a viral infection, Pavalon said, and the operation was not needed.

The hospital's anesthesiologist, Dr. Gustavo Albear, inserted a breathing tube down Morkos throat before putting her to sleep, Pavalon said. But it became dislodged, starving Morkos of needed oxygen and leading to permanent brain damage.

Albear, 78 at the time, retired after the incident, county officials said, and he is no longer practicing medicine.

Morkos still cannot speak, but she can write single words with her right hand, he said.

Hany continued to work at the restaurant while he learns English, Pavalon said, while Neveen's mother flew in from Egypt to care for her daughter around-the-clock.

With the settlement money, the family plans to buy a new home and renovate it for Morkos' special needs.

"This is one of those traumatic incidences that simply should not have happened," Pavalon said.

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