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The death of Penn sophomore Anne Ryan from bacterial meningitis in September has led to a lawsuit against the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). The suit, brought by the late 19-year-old’s family, accuses HUP personnel of misdiagnosing Ryan’s illness when she initially sought treatment.

Ryan visited the emergency room on September 6 with fever, nausea, and a head and neck ache. According to the family’s lawyer, Tom Kline, blood tests taken that day showed evidence of a bacterial infection. The results of a spinal tap, which is used to detect meningitis, came back negative, however. Ultimately Ryan was diagnosed with a less serious infection and sent home with medicine to control her nausea.

Two days later she returned to the emergency room. A meningitis infection was now evident, and its rapid advance led to Ryan’s death the following day. The family’s lawsuit also alleged that a spinal tap performed during Ryan’s second visit, after a CAT scan had indicated brain swelling, contributed to the sophomore’s death. Their suit seeks punitive damages from the seven doctors involved and includes a corporate negligence claim against the hospital.

HUP officials maintained that Ryan had received appropriate care. “Although Ms. Ryan’s symptoms were not classic for meningitis, she underwent a thorough evaluation and testing which included receiving the recognized test for detecting meningitis—a lumbar puncture—and the results were negative and remained negative,” a statement said. The hospital’s legal response moved to dismiss the suit’s claim for punitive damages, arguing that the defendants did not exhibit “reckless indifference to the rights of others.” It also rebutted the charge of corporate negligence as “unfounded.” At press time, no hearings had yet been scheduled.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis are known to develop very quickly, sometimes over a matter of hours. It is vital that treatment commence at the earliest possible moment. 


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