Former nurse RaDonda Vaught broke down in tears at the start of her reckless manslaughter trial over the death of an elderly patient who was given the wrong medication.
The landmark trial could change the landscape of nursing in the US, as Ms Vaught could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted and set a precedent for liability and prosecution for fatal medical errors.
She is also charged in the 2017 death of 75-year-old Charlene Murphey at Tennessee’s prestigious Vanderbilt University Medical Center with abuse by disabled adults.
Ms Vaught, 38, bowed her head and cried several times as the opening statement detailed how Ms Murphey was prescribed Versed, a sedative, but was injected with vecuronium instead, according to the Nashville Tennessean.
Severely paralyzed, Ms Murphey was unable to breathe and was later pronounced dead after being removed from life support on December 27, 2017.
She had been admitted two days earlier with complaints of a headache and vision loss. When a PET scan was ordered on December 26, Ms Murphey requested medication for the claustrophobic anxiety she was expected to experience.
The drug Versed could not be found in the automated dispensing system because it was listed under the generic brand Midazolam. Court records show that Ms Vaught used an override mechanism to enter “VE”, which resulted in Vecuronium being dispensed instead.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense dispute that Ms Murphey was given the wrong medication. While defense attorney Peter Strianse said the mistake was a systemic problem at Vanderbilt, prosecutor Debbie Housel said Ms Vaught recklessly disregarded safety precautions to protect patients.
The first witness, Chandra Murphey, testified that her mother-in-law was doing better when doctors ordered the PET scan to determine the cause of the bleeding in her brain.
“They basically took her down well and brought her back dead,” she said.
The death was initially ruled as natural causes before being determined to be due to accidental acute vecuronium poisoning, the court heard.
Ms Vaught was only charged in early 2019 after state and federal health officials were alerted to an unreported medication error.
During a Tennessee Board of Nursing hearing last year, Ms Vaught admitted to being complacent and distracted, but she wasn’t the only one to blame.
“I know the reason this patient is no longer here is because of me. I get to celebrate Christmas with my family every year and it hurts them that they don’t. There will never be a day when I don’t think about what I did and how it affected her,” she told the nursing board.
The process goes on.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.