scorecardA doctor dismissed a 25-year-old man with allergies, when he actually had a deadly form of Lyme disease. A jury just awarded his family $6.5 million.
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A doctor dismissed a 25-year-old man with allergies, when he actually had a deadly form of Lyme disease. A jury just awarded his family $6.5 million.

Andrea Michelson   

A doctor dismissed a 25-year-old man with allergies, when he actually had a deadly form of Lyme disease. A jury just awarded his family $6.5 million.
LifeScience2 min read
  • Peter Smith was 25 when he developed a rash and symptoms that his doctor dismissed as allergies.
  • He actually had a rare complication of Lyme disease, and died as a result.

When Peter Smith visited the emergency room for a spreading rash and flu-like symptoms in June 2017, a doctor sent the 25-year-old home with a diagnosis of allergies.

Smith, a recent college graduate from Temple University, had just moved to Portland, Maine, to start a job at one of the top international accounting firms, according to court documents reviewed by Insider.

But before he could get his CPA license, Smith died of a heart infection called Lyme carditis on July 2, 2017 — less than a month after he was misdiagnosed at Mercy Hospital.

Smith was misdiagnosed with allergies twice

Nearly 15% of the world's population has been infected with Lyme disease, according to a recent estimate published in BMJ Global Health. The disease can be tricky to diagnose, and delayed diagnosis may result in complications.

Smith first went to the Mercy Hospital emergency room on June 17th, 2017, with symptoms that included fever, chills, dizziness, headache, and a rash, the Bangor Daily News reported. All of the symptoms could point to a diagnosis of Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease is one of the most reported infectious diseases in Maine, according to the CDC, with most cases occurring during the summer.

However, Smith's doctor noted he had "no signs of Lyme disease" at his first visit in June, and he was diagnosed with an allergic reaction again at a separate Mercy Hospital location two weeks later, according to the Bangor Daily News.

In reality, Lyme disease had infected his heart

In Smith's case, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease had entered his heart, causing a rare complication called Lyme carditis. According to the CDC, the condition occurs in approximately 1 out of every 100 Lyme disease cases.

Symptoms of Lyme carditis can include light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and chest pain, according to the CDC.

Without treatment, the bacteria in the heart can cause inflammation and impact the normal electrical signals that keep the heart beating — a condition called "heart block." The condition is usually mild but in some cases, like Smith's, it can be deadly.

Five days after he was sent home for the second time, Smith called an ambulance to Maine Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with Lyme carditis. He was treated and released, but died at home eight days later, according to the Bangor Daily News.

After he died of Lyme disease complications, Smith's parents sued the doctor, hospital, and hospital system. Their case was heard in January 2023; on Feb. 1, a jury voted to award the parents $6.5 million for their son's wrongful death. Mercy Hospital did not respond to Insider's request for comment.




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