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July 25, 2019

Neil Armstrong's family received a $6M settlement from an Ohio hospital following his death, documents show

Daily Briefing

    In 2014, Mercy Health—Fairfield Hospital reached a $6 million settlement with the family of astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died at the hospital following complications from cardiovascular surgery, according to previously undisclosed documents obtained by the New York Times and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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    According to the Times, the confidential settlement barred both parties from disclosing the agreement. However, the Times and the Enquirer separately received an anonymous package in the mail containing documents related to Armstrong's care in the facility and the settlement agreement filed in a probate court in Hamilton County, Ohio. The Times said it was able to verify the documents' authenticity because some of the pages are publicly available at the probate court's website.   

    Armstrong's death

    In 2012, Armstrong was admitted to Fairfield Hospital with symptoms of heart disease. Following initial tests, doctors at the hospital decided to immediately perform bypass surgery, and they implanted temporary wires to help pace Armstrong's heartbeat while he recovered.

    When a nurse later removed the wires, the situation took a turn for the worse: Armstrong's pericardium was torn, and he began bleeding internally. According to the documents, Armstrong was taken to the hospital's catheterization lab to drain the blood leaking from the tear, and he then was taken to the OR.

    The records obtained by the Times do not make clear what happened in the OR, but the Enquirer reports its documents show surgeons repaired the heart damage about an hour and 37 minutes after the nurse pulled the wires.

    The Times and The Enquirer report different timelines between the repair and Armstrong's death, but both suggest he lived in the hospital for at least a week, passing away on Aug. 25.

    Armstrong's family comes to a settlement

    Two years after Armstrong's death, Wendy Armstrong, a lawyer and the wife of Neil Armstrong's son, Mark, emailed Fairfield, informing them that Armstrong family had hired Joseph Bavaria, a heart specialist and the vice chair of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, to review Neil Armstrong's medical records.

    Bavaria concluded that the hospital had made fatal mistakes in the course of care. "There is NO STANDARD OF CARE ANYWHERE I KNOW OF where patients who are bleeding after an epicardial wire pull go to a cath lab," he wrote. Bavaria also took issue with the initial decision to treat Armstrong's apparent heart disease with surgery. "While Neil indeed had significant coronary disease, THERE WAS NO EMERGENCY here," he wrote.

    Wendy indicated the family was considering filing a wrongful-death suit and could go public with the information if the hospital did not agree to a $7 million settlement.

    In the weeks following the email, Mercy Health officials ultimately agreed to a $6 million settlement with the Armstrong family. The hospital did not admit to any wrongdoing.

    As part of the probate court proceedings, the hospital called on two of its own medical experts to review the case, and both largely supported the care provided.

    For instance, Richard Salzano, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Yale Medical Center, who reviewed the case on behalf of Fairfield Hospital, believed the doctors' decision to bring Armstrong to the catheterization lab was "defensible," though "certainly riskier than taking the patient to the OR."

    J. Stanley Hillis, a practicing cardiologist at St. Vincent's Hospital in Indiana, who also reviewed the case on behalf of the hospital, similarly wrote that he generally supported Armstrong's treatment plan. 

    Hospital responds

    In a statement issued last Tuesday, Nanette Bentley, a spokesperson for Mercy Health, said, "Our commitment to patient privacy and dignity is a responsibility we take very seriously, and we are unable to discuss any individual or his or her care. The public nature of these details is very disappointing—both for our ministry and the patient's family who had wished to keep this legal matter private."

    "Our focus on advanced, high-quality, patient-centric care is a cornerstone of our ministry, and our commitment to our mission is unwavering—we extend the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bring good help to those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved. This is our promise to every patient who comes through our doors" (AP/TIME, 7/23; Shane/Kliff, New York Times, 7/23; Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer, 7/23; AP/CBS News, 7/23).

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