UChicago sued for negligence in death of Silver Cross Hospital CEO

UChicago Medicine and one of its cardiothoracic surgeons have been named in a lawsuit over the death of Ruth Colby, the former CEO of New Lenox, Ill.-based Silver Cross Hospital. 

Ms. Colby underwent a minimally invasive robotic heart valve procedure at the University of Chicago Medicine Hospital on Sept. 25, 2023. She died from surgical complications in the hospital on Oct. 15, at the age of 69. 

On Feb. 14, David Chodak — Ms. Colby's son and the executor of her estate — filed a complaint against the health system and Husam Balkhy, MD, the surgeon who performed her procedure. Mr. Chodak and his legal representation, Chicago-based Clifford Law Offices, allege that the defendants were negligent while Ms. Colby was under their care. They are seeking an amount in excess of $50,000 from each defendant. 

Clifford Law obtained an expert review of the case from a practicing board-certified  cardiovascular surgeon and trauma general surgeon with more than four decades of surgical experience. The procedure appeared to be routine, and per Dr. Balkhy's own STS risk score assessment, Ms. Colby should have had a predicted mortality of less than 1.3% to 1.7%, according to the review. 

"At issue is the over-all substandard care provided to the deceased by cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Husam H. Balkhy which resulted in an unacceptable patient outcome," the reviewing physician wrote. 

"In summary, it is my professional medical opinion that Ruth Colby's death at age 69 was preventable," they continued. 

Ms. Colby had a history of sick-sinus syndrome, which required a pacemaker in 2006. She was referred to UChicago by the physicians managing her pacemaker for evaluation of symptoms consistent with mitral regurgitation. 

On Sept. 25, Dr. Balkhy performed a mitral valve annuloplasty and septal shaving. After the surgery, Ms. Colby was unable to transition off bypass and suffered severe heart failure. She was transferred from the operating room to the cardiac intensive care unit in critical condition, where she died after three weeks "as a direct or proximate result [of] sustained injuries which resulted in her death by prolonged cardiogenic shock, organ malperfusion and worsening multi-system organ failure," according to the complaint. 

"Our expert report states that Ms. Colby underwent the wrong procedure which was negligently performed," Keith Hebeisen, partner at Clifford Law, said in a Feb. 20 news release. "We intend to get to the bottom of what happened because Ms. Colby did everything as she was advised and relied on this hospital and its doctor to properly treat her condition without her dying."

Ms. Colby was president and CEO of Silver Cross Hospital upon her death. She had served in the role for six years and previously held leadership roles at UChicago Medicine.

"Ruth was a true servant leader and a driving force in transforming Silver Cross from a community hospital to a regional medical center and nationally recognized healthcare brand," Jean Kenol, chair of the Silver Cross board of directors, said in a statement upon her death. "She was an inspiration to us all, was beloved by our hospital community and she loved them passionately in return. We will miss her terribly."

A representative for Silver Cross Hospital declined to comment on the litigation filed by Mr. Chodak.

Representatives for UChicago Medicine were not immediately available for comment. Becker's will update this story if more information becomes available.

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