Doctors' gaffes led to death, attorney says
Frank Thornton died because two doctors at Mercy Hospital made mistake during surgery, and doctor told man's family after surgery that patient was doing fine, attorney says.
By David Weiss
WILKES-BARRE - Hospital personnel lied to a man's family after two doctors mistakenly put a breathing tube down his esophagus instead of his windpipe during surgery, leading to the man's brain damage and death, an attorney said.
The doctors - one who failed a medical exam five times - put 72-year-old Frank Thornton under anesthetic for an operation and then attempted to put him on a ventilator while performing the surgery at Mercy Hospital in August 2000.
The doctors, Esther McKenzie and Walter Boris, allowed oxygen to fill his stomach through his esophagus for up to 10 minutes and ignored indications that the tube was in the wrong pipe, said attorney Joseph Quinn.
Quinn made the allegations Wednesday in the first day of a civil jury trial. He is representing Dorothy Thornton, administrator to the estate of her husband, Frank. She filed suit in August against Mercy Health Care and others after her husband's surgery.
"Something terrible happened," Quinn said. "Something that should have never happened."
But McKenzie's attorney, J. Scott Kramer, said the doctor warned Thornton of the risks, including death, involved with the procedure.
And he urged jurors to pay close attention and scrutinize the plaintiff's witnesses because they will try to focus their testimony on certain issues instead of all the aspects.
Kramer also said Thornton had a history of smoking, was taking blood pressure medication and suffered pulmonary disease.
In his opening statement, Quinn said doctors noticed a minute growth on one of Thornton's lungs during a successful heart procedure in March 2000.
Instead of telling Thornton about alternative examinations he could have undergone to monitor the growth without surgery, Thornton was told he needed surgery.
On Aug. 18, he was given the anesthetic for the surgery and the medical staff put him on the ventilator. But Quinn said the ventilator tube was placed into Thornton's esophagus for six to 10 minutes.
The doctors, he said, missed classic signs that the tube was not properly in place. Thornton's stomach swelled from the air, his heart rate dropped and his carbon dioxide level increased, Quinn said.
Quinn said a medical instrument is normally used to make sure ventilation tubes are used properly. It's a simple move, Quinn said, that should not be overlooked.
After Thornton's death, two medical examinations were performed. They showed Thornton died from asphyxiation because of inappropriate ventilation, Quinn said.
The attorney also said McKenzie, who was hired to fill a temporary opening, did not have credentials to be in the hospital that day and failed the written part of a medical exam five times before the Aug. 18 incident.
Kramer said not being a good test taker should not be held against his client.
Quinn also said Boris, after surgery, told Thornton's wife her husband was doing fine.
"Frank Thornton should have never had brain damage," Quinn said. "And the hospital from top to bottom never told the family the truth."
The trial could last several weeks before Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski, Jr.