Former Pensacola firefighter awarded $7.6M after misdiagnosis cost him part of his leg

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A doctor and Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital lost a medical malpractice lawsuit this week and have been ordered to pay approximately $7.6 million due to the doctor misdiagnosing a bacterial infection as an ankle sprain.

The mistake ultimately cost a retired Pensacola firefighter the lower portion of his right leg, which had to be amputated, according to his lawyers.

The former firefighter, Michael Vahle, and his wife, Jean Vahle, were respectively awarded $6,805,071 and $787,371 on Thursday at the conclusion of an eight-day civil jury trial in Pensacola, according to the Escambia County Clerk of Court office.

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According to a legal complaint, Michael Vahle's leg became infected Sept. 11, 2016, after being exposed to the waters of Pensacola Bay. His right leg developed blue discoloration and started to ache.

By the next day, both the pain and blue discoloration had worsened, and he went to the Ascension Sacred Heart Urgent Care Center at Pensacola for treatment. Blisters started to developed on the leg while he sat in the lobby waiting to be seen.

Vahle was treated at the urgent care center by Fred Mixon who "diagnosed him with an ankle sprain and discharged him with crutches and instructions to ice and elevate," the complaint stated.

The following day, Vahle went to a podiatrist Sept. 13, 2016.

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The podiatrist "immediately suspected Mr. Vahle was suffering from an ongoing aggressive bacterial infection" and arranged for him to be seen at the West Florida Hospital Emergency Department, the complaint stated.

Doctors at West Florida Hospital diagnosed Vahle with a necrotizing bacterial infection that need to be aggressively treated with antibodies and the removal of dead issue.

Despite multiple procedures to remove dead skin, stop and treat the infection, Vahle ultimately required an above-knee amputation of his lower right leg.

The case's two defendants were listed in court records as Mixon, the doctor who made the misdiagnosis, and the Sacred Heart Health System Inc., doing business as Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group.

Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group declined to comment on the matter.

The plaintiffs were represented by two attorneys, Cameron Stephenson and Justin Lusko, with the Levin Papantonio Rafferty legal firm.

The law firm announced the verdict via a news release on its website.

"This verdict, this result, is all about my clients," Stephenson said in a written statement. "What happened to them should have never happened. Justice was done, and I have never been prouder in my professional career.

"We had good facts and wonderful clients, and the jury just saw the truth," Stephenson added.

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Sacred Heart Medical Group, doctor lose medical malpractice case