6 years ago, Ella Tannous, a young victim of medical malpractice, ignited Lebanese public opinion and sparked a heated debate about medical errors.
The controversial case recently returned to the spotlight when its long-anticipated verdict was finally issued.
The story first broke in April 2015: a 9-month-old girl who entered the hospital with a fever and came out with her extremities lost.
The Ella Tannous Story
One day, Ella Tannous‘s parents noticed that her temperature had risen. The fever was constant, for 5 days, during which Hassan Tannous and his wife Eliana Jreij consulted the doctor and did the required medical testing.
The girl was first diagnosed with a cold and was admitted to Notre Dame de Secours (Al-Maounat) Hospital for 2 days, during which it was discovered that she was suffering severe blood infection that had already plunged her into septic shock.
Ella’s parents were then asked to transport her to either the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC), Saint George Hospital University Medical Center, or Hôtel-Dieu de France.
By the time Ella reached AUBMC, her kidneys had stopped functioning, her lungs were full of fluid, her temperature was high, and her blood pressure was very low.
After 4 days of treatment with antibiotics, Ella’s kidneys were functioning again, and she was starting to recover, but gangrene had set in at that point, calling for the need to amputate her extremities.
It was already too late when Ella’s condition was later diagnosed as a Group A Streptococcal infection, which can typically be easily treated with common antibiotics.
What followed was a harrowing experience for Ella and her parents.
The little girl needed a weekly operation to treat the amputation sites, and she was in great pain for extended periods of time, due to the fact that the painkillers she was taking did not cover more than 2 hours per administration every 8 hours.
The Ella Tannous case sparked a nationwide debate and a feud between the media and the Order of Physicians, especially when Dr. Issam M. was detained over the case after Ella’s parents pressed charges.
The Order’s response to the detainment was an open strike that prompted the Health Ministry to issue a statement, in which it stressed the necessity of ensuring the well-being of patients and providing them with the medical attention they needed.
As media outlets and social TV programs covered the developments of the case, Lebanese public opinion split between sympathizing with Ella and her parents on one hand, and supporting a fair investigation into the case before pinning the medical malpractice accusation on any physician on the other hand.
6 years later, in May 2021, the Misdemeanor Appeals Court in Beirut ordered AUBMC, Al-Maounat Hospital, and the doctors Issam M. and Rana S. to pay damages to Ella and each of her parents, as follows:
- 9 billion Lebanese pounds to Ella Tannous, in addition to a monthly income for life at four times the minimum wage,
- 500 million Lebanese pounds to Ella’s father, and 500 million Lebanese pounds to her mother.
The Order of Physicians and the Syndicate of Hospitals rejected the verdict, the former declaring a strike and the latter announcing that private hospitals would stop admitting all but urgent cases for several days.
The head of the Order of Physicians, Dr. Charaf Abou Charaf, has stated that the verdict of the Ella Tannous‘ case will cause doctors in Lebanon to evade cases of emergency and other difficult cases in the future, which “would make it difficult to have doctors in emergency rooms or intensive care to take care of the patients.”
To Ella’s parents, though nothing can compensate Ella’s loss, the verdict does, at least, provide moral compensation, in addition to what Hassan Tannous has described to Al-Akhbar as “a very strong message in the face of committers of medical errors.”