Former officer sues hospital over amputations

By From page A1 | November 19, 2012

A man is suing Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento after staff failed to properly treat him, leading to the amputations of both hands and both feet.

Robert Downey, 48, who spent 20 years in law enforcement, including with the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, arrived at Sutter Memorial on June 22, 2011, with an infection, said Downey’s attorney, Moseley Collins. His stepson, Nakona Reed, had visited the same physician’s assistant at the same hospital with a very similar infection.

Reed had gone to the hospital for treatment of an abscess on May 12, 2011. He was treated for the abscess and a culture was taken. On May 15, 2011, Reed returned. He was given antibiotics and sent home.

When Downey arrived with his infection, he expected similar treatment. Instead, Collins said, the physician’s assistant merely treated the abscess and sent Downey home, with no culture being made.

Downey returned two days later, and was told everything “looks good,” Collins said.

On July 18, Downey again returned, reporting that his shoulder hurt, and after doing research online, he told the staff that the infection could have spread to the joint. “He told them they haven’t really treated him with antibiotics,” Collins said. “They told him it’s just bursitis. Two days later, he collapses.”

Downey was rushed to the hospital, and “almost died a number of times,” Collins said. Gangrene set in. Downey’s wife, Cheri, made the decision to amputate.

“Had they treated him, he would have been fine. He was not treated by doctors,” Collins said, and the medical school experience “does make a difference.”

In all, Downey had seven amputations — his feet and hands, and three amputations of the legs, ending above the knee on his right leg and below the knee on his left.

However, even “garden variety antibiotics won’t work” with what Downey had, Collins said. It was determine he had MSSA — methicillin-sensitive staphylococcus aureus — related to MRSA, a more commonly known, often deadly infection that is fairly easily treated if caught early. Had a culture been taken, Collins said, Downey would have been put on proper antibiotics still have all his limbs.

As such, on June 19, 2012, Collins sent a 90-day notice of intent to sue to Sutter Memorial, stating that the hospital was “negligent in the examination, diagnosis, care and treatment of Robert Downey and that all such treatment, and conduct was below the standard of care and constituted reckless neglect.” The statement also alleges that the hospital did not properly select, train or supervise those giving treatment in the hospital.

The lawsuit itself, recently filed, stated that, “As a direct and proximate result of the foregoing negligence and recklessness, (Downey) has suffered, is suffering and will continue to suffer catastrophic injuries and loss of enjoyment of life including the amputation of both his arms and both his legs, all to his general damages, past, present and future.” The lawsuit also addresses the damages that will result from medical care, supplies, procedures, nursing, prosthetics, and more, as well as damages done to Downey’s wife as a result of the procedures.

The lawsuit, Collins said, has two goals. “One: To make Sutter take financial responsibility for the harm to this man and his family. Two: To stop the hospital from killing and maiming us all by forcing them to do what they should be doing,” referring to the sub-par treatment Collins said Downey received. He said that “100,000 people die each year from medical errors. That’s equal to 400 airliners. What would people do if 400 airliners went down each year?”

Collins said the lawsuit “is part of a movement to stop hospitals from hurting us. It’s making it safer for all of us.”

Cole Mayer

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