BANGOR, Maine — A jury will decide who bears responsibility for the heart damage a Millinocket man suffered when a local hospital failed to send blood test results to his doctor.
John Pierce, 71, and his wife, Clara Pierce, 63, in 2012 sued St. Joseph Hospital, his physician, Dr. Edward Dunstan, and Millinocket Regional Hospital, where the doctor is employed, in Penobscot County Superior Court.
The civil trial began Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center before Superior Court Justice William Anderson. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating late next week.
The Pierces seek unspecified damages for medical expenses, pain, suffering, emotional distress and the permanent damage to John Pierce’s heart caused by an eight-month delay in treatment for a strep infection in 2010. The infection during that timespan damaged his heart valves, and he underwent emergency open heart surgery on Feb. 13, 2011, at Eastern Maine Medical Center, according to the complaint.
“What happened to John Pierce was completely, 100 percent preventable if the hospital and his doctor had followed the safety rules about how providers communicate with each other,” Pierce’s attorney, Benjamin Gideon of Lewiston, told the jury of seven men and four women, including three alternates, in his opening statement.
Pierce was 66 and retired from a 46-year career at the Millinocket paper mill when on May 31, 2010, he went to the emergency room at St. Joseph Hospital while visiting Bangor complaining of a recurring fever, shortness of breath and lack of energy in the afternoons. A blood test to determine if Pierce had an infection was ordered, but the results were not available until the following day, Gideon said.
About 24 hours after the visit to the emergency room, a nurse called Pierce to give him the test results, but he does not remember the call, the plaintiffs’ attorney said. The nurse’s notes of the call state that she told Pierce to either return to the emergency room or see his physician within the next few days. He chose to see his physician, which he did on June 4.
If the Millinocket man had been placed on intravenous antibiotics for about four weeks, the surgery and heart damage would have been avoided, Gideon said. Instead, eight months later, he went into cardiac arrest and was taken to the emergency room at the Millinocket hospital. From there, he was flown by LifeFlight to EMMC where he underwent emergency cardiac surgery.
St. Joseph Hospital attorney James Martemucci of Portland told the jury that the hospital records department failed to send the test results to Dunstan in Millinocket.
“I’m telling you up front, we did make a mistake,” he said in his opening statement.
Martemucci told the jurors that while the hospital took responsibility for its mistake, it would be up to them to determine “if others also are responsible,” including Pierce.
When Pierce saw Dunstan as a follow-up to his emergency room visit, he provided the physician with incorrect information, the doctor’s attorney, Mark Lavoie of Portland, said in his opening statement.
“The doctor asked about the blood cultures, and Mr. Pierce told him they were negative,” he said. “That colors everyone’s perception of what’s going on. If Dr. Dunstan made a mistake, it was to trust what [Mr. Pierce] said.”
The Pierces’ attorney told jurors that in his closing argument he would suggest the amount of damages he believes his clients should be awarded. During the lunch break, Gideon declined to name an amount.
John Pierce is scheduled to testify Wednesday.