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Two Women Sue WVU for Medical Misconduct

June 25, 2008

By Brandy Brubaker, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Jun. 25–Two women have filed lawsuits alleging misconduct at WVU Hospitals — one for the death of her longtime companion and the other for a reported botched gallbladder surgery.

The lawsuits were filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court this month, not long after a consultant hired to evaluate WVU Health Sciences criticized the hospital’s ability to care for patients.

WVU Hospitals spokeswoman Amy Johns said WVU does not comment on pending litigation.

Joyce Duty, administratrix of the estate of the late Douglas Ray Tawney Jr., is suing WVU Hospitals and WVU Board of Governors, claiming that the groups are guilty of medical malpractice and negligence.

According to Duty’s suit, Tawney, 44, was admitted to WVU Hospitals on June 16, 2007, for a surgery to repair a broken jaw he’d sustained in an altercation at work. His jaw was wired and immobilized as part of the procedure, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claims that Tawney was not properly monitored and treated post-surgery, allowing his airway to deteriorate and resulting in respiratory and cardiac arrest that wasn’t timely discovered.

When it was discovered that Tawney had no pulse, heart rate, blood pressure or respiratory rate, the hospital failed to “either utilize or properly maintain medical equipment to treat and respond to” Tawney’s medical emergency and failed to timely call a code, the lawsuit said.

Code was called at 11:25 p.m. June 16, 2007, but an airway wasn’t established for another 13 minutes, the lawsuit said. One nurse reportedly said Tawney was discovered to be in cardiac arrest at 10:50 p.m., although code wasn’t called until 11:25 p.m., Duty’s attorney, Tony O’Dell, said.

O’Dell said Tawney was not hooked up to any monitoring equipment once moved from the postanesthesia care unit to a general care floor. Part of the reason it took so long to establish an airway after code was called, O’Dell said, was because hospital staff had trouble finding a pair of wire cutters.

As a result of the hospital’s “failure to properly monitor and provide treatment to preserve [Tawney's] airway and as a result of the failure to timely discover and provide treatment for [Tawney's] respiratory and cardiac arrest, Tawney suffered a severe permanent brain injury, multi-system organ failure and death,” the lawsuit said.

Tawney remained in a vegetative state until he was removed from life support and died July 7, 2007, at the hospital, O’Dell said.

Duty is suing for loss of earning capacity, loss of companionship, mental anguish, and pain and suffering, among other damages.

Tawney is the father of Duty’s children and she said she was financially dependent on him at the time of his death.

Second suit

The second lawsuit was filed by Crystal Adams, a 24-year-old nurse’s aide, against WVU and Dr. Syed Hashmi, a board certified surgeon and assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, according to a profile on WVU’s Web site.

Adams was admitted to WVU Hospitals, specifically Ruby Memorial Hospital, on Sept. 15, 2006, for abdominal pain, the lawsuit said.

After reviewing her medical history and her current condition, Hashmi recommended immediate laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive procedure done with small incisions and a video monitor, rather than an open cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal), done with a larger incision, the lawsuit said.

During the laparoscopic cholecystectomy, Hashmi misidentified the cystic duct as the cystic artery and didn’t clip the duct, which resulted in a bile leak, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claimed that, due to surgical complications, Hashmi should have converted to an open choloecystectomy, but continued operating using the laparoscopic procedure.

Hashmi also failed to thoroughly cauterize the retained gallbladder wall and left part of the gallbladder itself inside Adams, the lawsuit said.

Adams’ attorney, James Gordon of Pittsburgh, said another doctor had to perform a second surgery on Adams to remove the rest of the gallbladder. She’s had multiple outpatient and in-patient treatments at Mon General and Ruby Memorial hospitals since the surgery, Gordon said. Nearly two years after the procedure, she has yet to fully recover, Gordon said.

Adams is suing for medical expenses and other damages. Her husband is also suing for loss of society, services and companionship of his wife.

Plaintiffs in each lawsuit request a jury trial.

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