Posted on Feb 25, 2007
Doctor wins malpractice lawsuit
By Paul Woolverton
Hairdresser Gloria Wright of Fayetteville went to the hospital Dec. 26, 2003, with a severe infection caused by gall stones.
Surgery to remove the stones and save her life ended up leading to her death in January 2004.
Her family sued the doctor, gastroenterologist John R. Jones, for $2.5 million.
Early Friday afternoon, after two and a half days of deliberating, the jury ruled against Wright’s family. Jones was not negligent.
Jones and his wife, Jackie, left the courthouse quickly after the verdict. This week, Jones said, he was praying for Wright’s family. He hoped that, regardless of how the jury ruled, her relatives would better understand how Wright died and have some closure.
Wright’s family was shocked that they lost the case.
“You got three nurses that say he ignored her getting into trouble? You got three nurses, and you have a radiologist that backs them up,” said Mel Hardin, one of Wright’s sisters. “How can they say he was not responsible? But we move on. We move on.”
Hardin recently lost her son, Hope Mills police officer James Heath Hardin, who collapsed and died of a heart attack while chasing a suspect.
Wright’s illness was caused when gallstones blocked her bile duct, Jones said earlier this week. Bile backed up into her liver and pancreas.
On Dec. 27, 2003, Dr. Vallisitaram Kodali put a medical device down her throat to look for the gall stones and try to take them out. He decided it was unsafe to continue the procedure because Wright’s blood was having trouble clotting, says a court document. So instead, Kodali installed a stent to allow the backed-up bile to bypass the blockage. This was a temporary solution. Plans were to remove the stones later.
Over the next few days, Wright felt better and appeared to improve.
On Dec. 30, 2003, Jones put the device down her throat so he could remove the stones.
The procedure included the use of a drug that reduces her breathing, said lawyer Coy Brewer, representing Wright’s family.
During the procedure, monitoring equipment showed reductions in the amount of oxygen in Wright’s blood, Brewer said. The medical personnel had some success in boosting the oxygen level. But then it went down again, the machine said.
There also were problems getting the machine to show any reading.
Jones thought the machine was malfunctioning and had another monitor brought in. It, too, had problems getting a reading.
Jones finished removing the stones. At that time, the breathing and oxygen monitor was not showing Wright’s vital signs, a court document says.
Seven minutes later, the personnel saw that Wright had no pulse.
She was revived but remained in a vegetative state for more than two weeks. Then the family had her taken off of life support.
Wright’s lawyers, Brewer and Ronnie Mitchell, argued that Jones should have stopped the procedure when the machines told him that Wright’s oxygen level was below a certain point. Jones could have tried again later to get the stones but instead, he pressed on, they said.
They also said that Jones ignored nurses (who were employed by Cape Fear Valley Medical Center) when they warned him that Wright was having problems.
Jones said Mitchell and Brewer didn’t tell the full story.
Despite her improvement, Wright was quite sick and the bacterial infection caused by the gallstones was spreading throughout her body, Jones said. It was in her pancreas, liver, blood and lungs and killed one of her kidneys, he said.
Chest X-ray images made over the days before Jones treated Wright showed that the lung infection was growing, he said.
Wright’s body also was absorbing less oxygen than normal in an effort to weaken the bacteria invading her blood and organs, Jones said.
He said he had to get the gallstones out before Wright got too sick for the surgery.
Jones said he explained to Wright the severity of her illness, and that death was a risk with the surgery. He said he wished he had better explained her situation to her family before he performed the surgery.