The lawsuit alleges a nurse at EMMC gave Russ Lombardi medication that paralyzed the muscles in his diaphragm.
Ralph “Russ” Joseph Lombardi is shown his keyboard in this undated photograph. Lombardi's widow has sued Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center alleging that her husband died in September 2021 at the age of 75 after was given the wrong medication. Credit: Courtesy of Berman and SImmons

The widow of a Winterport composer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor claiming that Ralph “Russ” Joseph Lombardi died in 2021 when he was given medication intended for another patient.

The medication, cisatracurium, paralyzes the skeletal muscles, including those in the diaphragm that are necessary for spontaneous breathing, the complaint said. The medication does not have a sedative effect.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Penobscot County Superior Court in Bangor.

Suzanne Spruce, a spokesperson for the hospital’s parent company, Northern Light Health, declined to comment on the lawsuit because the hospital has not been served with the complaint.

Gail Lombardi, 71, of Winterport is seeking unspecified damages for funeral expenses, medical expenses, the loss of the comfort, society and companionship of their loved one and for the pain and suffering her husband experienced after he was administered the drug and before he died.

Russ Lombardi was admitted to EMMC on Sept. 20, 2021, to be evaluated for possible seizures, according to the complaint. Five days later, he was in intensive care, but “conscious and alert throughout the day.”

The night nurse, who was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, allegedly was caring for two patients — Russ Lombardi and a patient on a ventilator in the next room. The cisatracurium was intended for the patient in the next room, the complaint said.

About 6:15 p.m., a rapid response was called for Lombardi because he was not breathing and his blood oxygen levels were below normal. The medication error was not recognized until about 30 minutes later, the lawsuit claims.

Medical providers administered an antidote to the cisatracurium, but it was too late and he died at 7:38 p.m.

Gail Lombardi’s attorney, Travis Brennan of Lewiston, on Monday called the error that led to the composer’s death “egregious.”

“The more than 30 minutes when Russ slowly lost control of his ability to move, speak and breathe, is a nightmare scenario come to life, and Northern Light EMMC should be held accountable for his wrongful death,” Brennan said. “This egregious error could have been prevented had basic steps been followed. The family is hopeful that no other family will have to endure what they have.”

Russ Lombardi was born on Oct. 10, 1945, in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Berklee College of Music and earned his Masters of Music with honors from the New England Conservatory, both in Boston, according to  his obituary.

He moved to Maine and became the publisher of the Jackman Moose River Chronicle and, later, the Somerset Gazette. He also gave private music lessons and taught at the University of Maine at Augusta.

He published many compositions, performed at Carnegie Hall, and was flown to Prague to oversee his music being recorded by the Pilsen Philharmonic Orchestra. 

The lawsuit comes at a difficult financial time for the Bangor hospital’s parent company, Northern Light Health. Last week, a Cumberland County jury awarded the parents of a 25-year-old Portland man $6.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit over his misdiagnosis for Lyme disease in 2017.

Peter A. Smith died of Lyme carditis, which occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter the tissue of the heart, on July 2, 2017. He twice in June 2017 visited Dr. John R. Henson at Mercy Hospital, which is owned by Northern Light Health of Brewer, but was not diagnosed with Lyme disease, according to the family’s legal team.

In November, an all-white jury awarded David Ako-Annan, a Black man, $3 million in his racial discrimination case in federal court in Bangor. The organization is seeking to have the damages reduced to $800,000. A federal judge is expected to rule on that motion late this month or in early March.

Testimony at Ako-Annan’s trial in November revealed that in 2019 Northern Light Health was $30 million in the red. In 2020, that deficit rose to $58 million. Figures for 2021 were not discussed in detail, but a loss was anticipated while officials hoped to “break even” in 2022, according to testimony.