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Microsoft Designer Paralyzed by Hospital, Successfully Sues, Now Working with Hospital

August de los Reyes, a former top Microsoft Designer, suffers from an autoimmune disorder known as anklylosing spondylitis, or AS, which makes his spine brittle and susceptible to fracture even from minor trauma. Three years ago, August fell out of his bed and felt significant pain, so he went to the ER at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington. Mr. de los Reyes specifically told doctors of his medical condition and susceptibility to brakes in his spine, but the doctors assured him there was no break --- even though an x-ray showed an undetected hairline fracture in the spine. Doctors sent him home. Mr. de los Reyes went back to the hospital's ER twice over the next two weeks, the last time complaining of excruciating pain and tingling in his legs. While being positioned for MRI scans, Mr. de los Reyes was paralyzed from the waist down and will never walk again.

According to news accounts, August de los Reyes experienced all the feelings and phases of grief following his injury, from anger and sadness to wanting to know this error would not be repeated with another patient or family. When looking for a law firm to represent August, his sister settled on the Luvera Law Firm and attorney Robert Gellatly because the firm does not accept confidentiality orders in med-mal settlements. Mr. Gellatly told CNBC that gag orders do "not serve the public interest."

Well, long story short, the lawsuit was successful with the hospital paying $20M to August de los Reyes, but there was an unusual twist...something attorney Gellatly has never seen in 30 years of med-mal litigation: August de los Reyes and the hospital are now working together to redesign systems and improve patient safety processes for this hospital and other medical facilities.

As a designer, August de los Reyes has skills and knowledge that are very useful in helping analyze problems and propose fixes. Moreover, according to the CNBC article, Mr. de los Reyes is bringing in other designer colleagues to help Overlake Hospital. August is adamant about learning from his case to not only help Overlake Hospital, but also other hospitals and healthcare organizations.

Here is the link to the CNBC article featuring Mr. de los Reyes' story.

Some take-aways and questions for YOU from this story:

1) What does your settlement process look like....are you open to using the shared story with an injured patient/family to improve your healthcare delivery systems, and also share that learning with other healthcare organizations? Or do you have defense attorneys and claims managers who seek to seal up everything and slam the door shut on any chances of reconciliation? Have you even thought about this issue? Sorry Works! is thinking about confidentiality clauses and gag orders, and we are going to publish a paper soon on this topic. We want to hear your experiences with gag orders (or thoughts about gag orders) -- see our blog post on this topic and respond to or call 618-559-8168. All responses will be kept confidential.

2) Healthcare can be a closed fraternity or sorority....if you didn't come up in healthcare you are not welcome, outsiders need not apply. Are you open to the knowledge and experiences available from outsiders, even when those people are patients and families you may have harmed?

3) What are you doing to truly reconcile with your patients and families after legitimate medical errors have caused harm? What are you doing beyond cutting a check? Now, not every patient/family will be a former Microsoft designer who can analyze your systems, nor will many folks even be right for a patient safety committee, but almost every person injured by events (including your clinicians) need reconciliation and healing...what are you doing in this arena? There are a multitude of things you can do that will creatively meet the emotional needs of all stakeholders, and bring true peace. Have a plan in place as part of your disclosure program....

This is a GREAT article to share with will generate discussion and introspection, which is what we want.

Finally, remember, nominations -- including self-nominations -- for July's Sorry Works! Tool Kit are due next Thursday, July 28th by e-mailing


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