Broward County

LFamily sues after woman erupts in flames on hospital gurney

Adele Bearman was admitted to Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale for a routine procedure: to check for internal bleeding.

As her daughter Linda Hamalian settled outside in the surgical waiting room, medical personnel called a “code blue.” Hamalian noticed a flurry of activity.

Bearman, of Coconut Creek, had literally burst into flames on the gurney, according to a lawsuit, when excessive oxygen mixed with electrical currents caused an explosion. The blaze quickly spread to other materials in the room last August.

“The doctor came out and said he didn’t know what happened,” Hamalian said. “He himself tried to pull the drapes away from my mother’s face, which had caught on fire.’’

Bearman, 89 at the time, was transported to the Ryder Trauma Center’s burn unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She was hospitalized at various medical facilities for 140 days before she died on Jan. 23, 2014, from her injuries.

Holy Cross issued a statement Wednesday:

“We have served this community with our faith-based ministry for nearly 60 years and treat every patient with reverence. This was an isolated incident and patient safety is a top priority. Due to patient privacy laws, we cannot discuss this specific patient or the details of her care.”

When Bearman started internal bleeding, she was advised to go to the hospital because her regular physician was on vacation. Instead of preparing to attend her daughter’s New York wedding, she went in for a series of medical tests at Holy Cross.

Doctors scheduled Bearman for a procedure called an arterial biopsy on Aug. 31, 2013. She was provided oxygen through a face mask, according to the suit.

The combination of oxygen and electrocautery caused a “surgical flash fire” that caused burns on 25 percent of her body, as well as damage to her throat.

In the months before she died, she became quite agitated because she could not understand what had happened to her, her daughter said.

Hamalian and her new husband put off their honeymoon, coming down for Bearman’s operation that should have been a fairly routine procedure.

It turned out to be anything but routine.

Hamalian said Bearman moved to Florida in 1984 with her husband, Edward. She was a homemaker, a comparison shopper and a census taker. After her husband died, she chauffeured friends around because she was one of the few who could still drive.

“She was active in community issues,” said Hamalian, one of two daughters. “She was a reader to elementary school children; she was a painter; she knitted; she went to the opera, the theater.”

Before her surgery, Bearman spoke to her grandchildren every day, according to Ira Leesfield, the family’s attorney,

In the end, “she spent the last five months of her life in a hospital bed with her face in bandages,’’ Leesfield said.

In addition to Holy Cross, the suit names Dr. Robert Pasternak, American Anesthesiology of Florida, Dr. Franciso G. Bermudez and Dr. Ron Arison.

Neither Pasternak, American Anesthesiology, Bermudez nor Arison returned emails or phone calls by the Miami Herald.