The sequence of events that led to August de los Reyes being paralyzed from the neck down at age 42 began innocuously with a simple fall from his bed at home in May 2013.
De los Reyes hurt his back, and he was immediately concerned because he had been diagnosed 10 years earlier with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that could make him more susceptible to serious spinal injuries. The condition can cause vertebrae to fuse together, which makes the spine less flexible and more prone to fractures. When he developed severe back and abdominal pain, he decided to go to the Overlake Medical Center ED right away.
The ED physician sent him home with pain medication, even though he diagnosed a probable lumbar or thoracic fracture. However, court testimony later revealed that he did not enter that diagnosis into de los Reyes’ medical record for five days. De los Reyes’ condition did not improve, and he made four more visits to the Overlake ED in two weeks. Each time he explained his concern about his susceptibility to a spinal fracture, but each time he was told there was no fracture and provided more pain medication, de los Reyes says.
Once a lawsuit was filed, the physicians who had seen de los Reyes gave conflicting accounts of information available to them and what they told de los Reyes. On the last visit to the ED, de los Reyes says he was in excruciating pain and had lost control of his bowels, a common symptom of spinal injury. He also had developed tingling in his waist and upper legs.
On this visit, a physician ordered an MRI. As technicians positioned him for the scan, he remembers screaming in pain and then going limp. The technicians completed the MRI, and it showed the fracture in his spine. De los Reyes was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where it was confirmed that he had lost all neurological function below his eighth and ninth thoracic vertebrae. Doctors told him he would never walk again.