Posted on Feb 19, 2006
$2.5 million awarded in malpractice case
By Nancy Dooling
Press & Sun-Bulletin
An Otsego County jury has awarded a record $2.5 million to a Sidney woman injured by a Sidney doctor in a routine surgical procedure eight years ago that damaged major arteries and veins in her abdomen and legs and left her with a lifetime of pain.
"This was never about the money," said Wendy Harris, 36. "It is about making doctors accountable."
The verdict of medical malpractice was announced late Wednesday by an all-woman, six-member jury following a six-day civil trial in Cooperstown. It's a record jury award in Otsego County, said one of Harris' two attorneys, Stephen Cornwell Jr. of Binghamton. The jury deliberated about three hours before the verdict was read.
"This is what justice required," Cornwell said. "Even small towns can award and compensate an injured plaintiff."
Harris, a mother of two, went to The Hospital in Sidney the day before her 29th birthday in 1998 for a routine procedure, in which a small camera was inserted through a tube into her abdomen to take pictures of her uterus.
But during the procedure, Dr. Khalid Parwez, an obstetrician-gynecologist, nicked her aorta, the body's major artery, as well as her vena cava and she nearly bled to death on the operating table. Parwez also damaged a major artery and vein to Harris' leg with a needle in a second injury, her attorney said. Both injuries were ignored by Parwez, Cornwell said.
Parwez could not be reached for comment Friday night.
The botched surgery led to the formation of a massive clot in her left leg, leaving her with blocked circulation in that leg and excess blood flow to her right leg. She was transferred to Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center in Johnson City and after about a week's hospital stay, went home.
Two weeks later, she was hospitalized for a week at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton where the massive clot was discovered.
She lived, but she'll never run again, she said.
She later declined high-risk surgery to attempt to repair some of the damage, she said, even though she lives with pain every day, and risks gangrene and even death by leaving the injuries alone. "I told my surgeon I'd rather be at my son's wedding in a wheelchair than to not be there at all," she said. She uses a pressure pump for about 10 hours each week to force the excess blood from her leg.
Her son was 6 when his mother was injured. Now he's 13, and Harris also has a 3-year-old son.
Parwez has an office in Sidney, but The Hospital in Sidney closed last year for financial reasons. Parwez has privileges at United Health Services hospitals, Cornwell said. Officials at UHS didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
It's been a long haul for Harris, her family, Cornwell and Harris' lead attorney, Joseph Cote, of Syracuse. A first trial ended in an acquittal for Parwez, but the judge threw out that verdict; a state appeals court agreed with the judge's decision, and ordered a new trial. Attorneys will collect about one-third of the settlement in a portion set by the state. Harris has continued to work as a project leader at MeadWestvaco in Sidney, even though she qualified for full disability. She and her fiancé will get married this fall, she said.
Harris will use a portion of the settlement money to help other people by making a documentary about her experiences to warn others about surgical risks and assessing doctors, she said.
"The trial was only the first chapter of the story," she said.