A TRUE STORY of how one tragic event changed a young man’s life...for the better. Listen in...
It was Friday.
I was waiting for mom to pick me up.
I had just finished soccer practice.
I was 14 years old.
I was on the soccer team at Great Neck North High School and had a great workout.
I finally asked coach if I could call home. (There were no cell phones back then.)
I called home from the coach’s office.
Mom didn’t answer, but someone else did.
“Hey, where’s my mom? She was supposed to pick me up from school.”
“Uh, there’s been a problem. Your dad’s in the hospital, but he’s ok. She’ll be there soon.”
Turns out dad had a heart attack.
He was only 46 years old.
He was a doctor.
He was an obstetrician & gynecologist.
I went to visit dad that night.
He was in the ICU.
He teared up when he saw me.
He was hooked up to an EKG machine.
He had an IV in his arm.
But he looked fine.
He sounded fine.
But mom said he wasn’t that fine.
His doctor said it would be a few days before he could come home.
I was only 14 years old.
My brother was 12.
My other brother was 9.
On the day before dad was to be discharged he had a massive heart attack and died.
He was only 46.
I was only 14.
Dad was allergic to penicillin.
Two days before he was to be discharged, dad developed a urinary tract infection.
The doctor in training, known as a resident, decided to treat the UTI.
How did you treat it back then?
You gave penicillin or a derivative of penicillin.
Didn’t he know that dad was allergic to Penicillin?
Didn’t he know that dad never should have received that medication or any derivative of penicillin?
I mean, he was a doctor, right?
He graduated from medical school only months earlier.
He was a new intern.
He was learning.
He was learning from senior doctors and house staff.
Problem was, he was still learning.
No autopsy was done. Being Jewish, it’s against our religion to desecrate a dead person’s body.
He died on the 29th of September.
I remember it clearly even though these events happened 36 years ago.
I was only 14 years old.
The facts surrounding dad’s death just didn’t add up.
Did he get an antibiotic to treat his urinary tract infection?
Did he suffer an allergic reaction known as an anaphylactic reaction?
We didn’t know.
My mom had lots of questions.
We didn’t have any answers.
My mom’s sister knew a lawyer.
A personal injury lawyer.
A well-known, famous lawyer.
He was the first attorney in the country to obtain a million dollar verdict.
He was also a former judge.
A former judge from New York’s highest court.
Turns out, this big-shot lawyer felt my mom had a valid medical malpractice case.
He said the records showed the doctors and hospital violated basic medical standards.
He said the medical records showed dad suffered a fatal heart attack because of an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction to the antibiotic he received for his urinary tract infection.
This famous trial lawyer said dad’s death was preventable.
I was only 14 years old.
My brother was 12.
My youngest brother was 9.
Dad’s death was preventable.
He was 46.
He was an Ob/Gyn.
He had 3 kids and a lifetime ahead of him.
The attorney said his experts confirmed dad’s death was preventable.
Dad didn’t die of natural causes.
The case went to trial.
In Nassau County.
By now, I was a junior in college.
It was a 3 week trial.
Our famous trial attorney up against two well-known defense attorneys.
One defense attorney for the hospital and the doctor-in-training.
One defense attorney for the cardiologists.
Right in the middle of my final exams in December.
Near Christmas time.
I came to watch part of the trial.
I again came to watch closing arguments.
I came to see who these doctors were who violated the basic standards of medical care.
I wanted to see for myself who caused my father’s death.
What I saw changed my life.
You see, I was pre-med.
I was going to be a doctor, or so I thought.
I was a biology major.
My dad was a doctor.
His dad was a doctor.
My uncle was a doctor.
Three of my cousins were in 6 year medical schools, on their way to becoming doctors.
Another cousin was a doctor.
I was on my way to taking all my pre-requisites for medical school.
Until this trial.
Then my life changed.
Before my mom hired a lawyer, I didn’t even know what a lawyer did.
I didn’t know any lawyers.
I didn’t even known why someone would need an attorney.
It was time for closing arguments in our case.
The two defense attorneys went first.
Their arguments were persuasive.
I liked the attorney who represented the cardiologist better than the attorney who represented the hospital.
He was nicer.
He had a better argument, I thought.
Then our attorney made closing arguments.
He was powerful.
He had total command of the facts.
He was persuasive.
He ridiculed the defense and the doctor’s arguments.
He made the doctor in training, who was now an attending physician, turn red.
He pointed at him.
He called him out.
By the end of closing arguments, I was convinced.
I was convinced that medicine was not what I was born to do.
I thought that I could do what this famous trial attorney was doing.
And...I thought I could do it better.
Sounds pretty arrogant for a kid in college to say that, and it probably was.
I realized walking out of that courtroom that I really didn’t want to be a doctor.
Instead, I wanted to be a medical malpractice trial lawyer, just like our attorney.
For years we had been living with this lawsuit.
Reliving the facts.
Over and over again.
Our attorney’s words kept punctuating our lives.
“His death was preventable.
We have the best experts in New York City on our side.
The best credentialed doctors.
They all agree with us.”
That’s what our attorney kept telling my mom.
Only problem was, the jury didn’t believe it.
The jury believed the hospital.
The jury believed the doctor in training.
The jury believed the cardiologist who cared for my dad.
They didn’t believe our experts.
The jury didn’t think we had shown that we were more likely right than wrong that the doctors and hospitals caused dad’s death.
The jury never even got past the first question...
“Were the defendants negligent and did they depart from good and accepted medical care?”
It was unanimous.
Six of jurors thought the same thing.
That trial changed the direction of my life...
All for the better.
The result was not what we wanted.
The result was devastating.
The outcome, either way, would never bring dad back.
But my mom altered my life’s path by choosing to bring a lawsuit on our behalf.
For that, I am eternally grateful.
That trial in Nassau County,
That famous trial attorney who spoke for us,
Those well-known defense attorneys all unknowingly changed the course of my life.
For the better.
I now had a purpose.
I now had a drive.
I now wanted to help injured victims who could no longer speak for themselves.
And, I wanted to be a better attorney than the one we had.
At that point, I wanted to change my major from biology to political science.
But I couldn’t. It was too late.
I graduated with a biology major and a minor in political science.
I took the LSAT’s and headed to law school.
On my first day in law school, I found it fitting to take dad’s split-leather tan briefcase with me to carry my books. It was a bittersweet moment that only I’d be privy to.
Click here to learn how, twenty seven years later, I wound up going up against the same defense attorney who represented the cardiologist in my dad’s lawsuit. That was fascinating and I’ll share with you why and how I have the greatest respect for that well-known defense attorney.
Remember, I was only 14 years old.
Dad was too young to die of natural causes.
He did get an antibiotic he was allergic to.
But the defense claimed he never got it.
One recurring theme is where the patient continues to complain to the doctor about ongoing chest pain. The doctor may do certain diagnostic tests and misinterpret them or not realize the significance of the test results. The patient may be lulled into a false sense of security believing the ongoing pain is unrelated to any heart problem.