A hospital’s mistake paralyzes a Microsoft Designer. He got $20M, and an unusual promise

Most people wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a hospital after suing it for paralyzing them, and winning a $20 million settlement. August de los Reyes isn’t most people.  oio

A former top Microsoft designer, de los Reyes became a paraplegic after a visit to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington. His repeated warnings that he might have suffered a back fracture weren’t properly heeded by doctors and others at the institution, which left him confined to a wheelchair. The hospital itself told CNBC was “the result of tragic circumstances related to communications breakdowns between members of his care team.”

As part of his new legal settlement with the hospital, which agreed to pay him $20 million, de los Reyes also got Overlake to agree to work with him on analyzing how and why things went wrong for him, conducting what he said would be “a case study.”

“For selfish reasons I just want to know where this broke down and why this happened,” de los Reyes said. The 45-year-old was hired by Microsoft in 2003. He spent seven years at the technology behemoth before departing, only to return in 2013 to head Microsoft’s Xbox design team. Last month, de los Reyes left Microsoft to become design manager at Pinterest, the web and mobile application company. de9964aa-340c-11e6-a9f6-8dc17dcc3f94-780x489

The ultimate goal of the case study, which has already seen two meetings between de los Reyes and top Overlake brass, is to take the lessons learned and develop solutions that can be applied at Overlake — and potentially other hospitals.

As part of that effort, he is tapping a network of designers to bring their expertise at identifying problems in systems, and crafting solutions. Among them is with Allen Sayegh, principal at Invivia design firm and an associate professor at Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he taught de los Reyes.

“As a designer … I think there’s a lot of possibilities and potential in this because things have been the same for a long time in health care,” Sayegh said. “We can translate what we’ve learned from design, designing systems, projects and running experiments and translating them into health care.”


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