A UCLA doctor was named in a lawsuit for the wrongful death of his patient after allegedly prescribing her a drug at more than twice its maximum recommended dosage.
Patrick Yaffee, a doctor at UCLA Health, allegedly overprescribed Maria Isabella Steele a drug to lower cholesterol and did not inform her of its side effects, according to a lawsuit filed by Steele’s husband May 3.
Yaffee prescribed Steele with a two-month supply of Atorvastatin after finding she had high cholesterol levels during her annual physical health examination Jan. 4, according to the lawsuit.
She died of drug-induced liver failure a little less than a month later, on Feb. 2.
Ashley Steele, Isabella Steele’s husband, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Yaffee and the University of California Board of Regents.
Pete Kaufman, Ashley Steele’s attorney, said Yaffee prescribed Isabella Steele the drug at a dosage of 80 milligrams, four times the minimum recommended starting dose.
Yaffee allegedly did not tell Steele that her prescription was double the recommended maximum dose, nor did he warn her to stop taking the drug if she experienced side effects, according to the lawsuit.
Yaffee did not respond to requests for comment.
Steele messaged Yaffee using the myUCLAhealth portal later that month, complaining of muscle cramps, dark urine and other symptoms similar to that of the flu. Yaffee allegedly told her to continue taking the Atorvastatin, according to the lawsuit.
Steele had expressed concerns about her symptoms and requested a liver test, according to the lawsuit. Kaufman said he thinks the test was merited by Steele’s symptoms, her low weight and the high dosage.
“The (request for a) test was rejected, astonishingly,” Kaufman said.
She requested a second liver test three days later after continuing to experience symptoms, which was performed the same day.
Yaffee called her later that day and left a voicemail, suggesting she should stop taking the medication and let it wash out of her system, according to the lawsuit.
Later that day, she arrived at the emergency room too weak to walk, carried in her husband’s arms. She was airlifted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center two days later and was promptly placed on the liver transplant list, according to the lawsuit.
Steele died two days later from drug-induced hepatitis, a type of liver inflammation.
Prior to her physical, Steele was a 33-year-old, 97-pound patient who did not smoke or drink, had normal blood pressure and exercised six times a week, Kaufman said.
“As a licensed physician he had an obligation to meet the standard,” Kaufman said. “And the standard of care is not (to administer) 80 milligrams to a patient with a single risk factor and then ignore her complaints.”
Phil Hampton, a UCLA Health spokesperson, said in an email statement the complaint is under review and UCLA Health has nothing to add at this time.
The UC Regents declined to comment.
Ashley Steele said in a press release he filed the lawsuit to hold those responsible for his wife’s death accountable.
“I spent what should have been our 10-year anniversary beside my wife’s grave,” Steele said in the statement. “My mission is to … bring truth to light in the hope that no one else will needlessly endure what my wife suffered.”
Kaufman said he believes filing the lawsuit is the best way to address Steele’s losses through the civil system, but expressed hesitations about how much closure the UC Regents’ payment for damages could provide him.
“Having them pay fair, reasonable and adequate compensation is a good thing and it’s really the only thing (we can do),” Kaufman said. “The unfortunate effect of these wrongs – the loss of this woman to her family and Mr. Steele – how is that undone?”