2002-06-29 / Front Page

‘St. John’s Let My Brother Die’

Family Says Dialysis Patient Died After Doctors, Nurses Ignored His Pleas For Help
By Gary G. Toms

'St. John's Let My Brother Die'
By Gary G. Toms

Thomas L. Richardson is pictured with his mother, Lula Richardson, and his niece, Ebony Richardson, before a graduation ceremony. "I want my uncle back. That's what Ebony always says to us," said the grieving mother.Thomas L. Richardson is pictured with his mother, Lula Richardson, and his niece, Ebony Richardson, before a graduation ceremony. "I want my uncle back. That's what Ebony always says to us," said the grieving mother. Family Says Dialysis Patient Died After
Doctors, Nurses Ignored His Pleas For Help

Family members describe Ebony Richardson as a very bright and lovable young girl. She enjoys playing with her dolls and watching television, but one of greatest pleasures was walking to school every morning with her uncle, Thomas L. Richardson. The two would often laugh and play along the route to school, and then part after a playful kiss. The laughter and games would end within the first week of May, and Ebony, along with the rest of the Richardson family, is still trying to figure out what happened.

According to his family, Richardson, 47, had been a dialysis patient at St. John's Episcopal Hospital South Shore, located at 327 Beach 19 Street, for the last three years. During this time, he never complained about how he was feeling until May 4. On that day, he was on dialysis and passed out during the procedure. When he came to, Richardson complained to nurses and doctors about having chest pains and shortness of breath. The doctors and nurses did not investigate the complaints, and told him that he would be fine. He was then sent home.

On May 7, Richardson went back to St. John's for another dialysis treatment. Again, he told the medical personnel that he was having tremendous difficulty breathing, and that his chest was hurting. The doctors and nurses sent him home.

At 4 p.m. that afternoon, Richardson's sister, Monique Richardson, who has worked as a Laboratory Accessionist at Peninsula Hospital Center for the last four years, and her mother, Lula, called an ambulance to have the ailing man taken back to the hospital after noticing his condition. Eyewitnesses later told the family that Richardson was registered and left sitting in a chair in the emergency room.

"My four sisters and I arrived at St. John's around 5:30 p.m., and my brother was still sitting in the chair struggling for air," said Monique.

"Being very familiar with hospital procedure, I went over to the nurses station to ask if a physician had been assigned to my brother. They all just looked at me as though I was from outer space. No one would come forth with any information, be they doctors or nurses. It wasn't until 45 minutes later, that a doctor finally came over to take x-rays."

Lula Richardson told The Wave that the family began to feel a bit relieved that someone was showing concern for Thomas. They felt that the situation was being addressed, so they left the hospital. Monique, sensing that something might be wrong, decided to call the hospital, at 6:30 p.m., to see if her brother would be admitted. She was told that Richardson had not been examined. When she called back at 7 p.m., the doctors had finally started to run blood work on Richardson.

"I had an opportunity to speak to my brother when I called at 7 p.m., and he told me that he was still sitting in a chair in the E.R.," Monique said.

"When I asked him about his breathing, he told me that his condition was getting worse. When I got the chance to speak with a nurse, to find out why he was not on oxygen, the nurse stated that my brother didn't need it yet, and that they were waiting for the blood work to come back. That would determine if he would be admitted or not."

Richardson's anguish continued, as he sat in the emergency room, between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., struggling for air. Lena Moss, 32, a very close friend of the Richardson family, was in the emergency room with her mother, and contacted the family to inform them of what they witnessed.

"Lena and her mother told us that the nurses were very rude to my brother in the manner that they spoke to him and in their refusal to try and get him a bed."

It was shortly after 9 p.m. that Richardson was admitted. Doctors stated that Thomas had an enlarged heart, pneumonia, and fluid around his heart. He was taken to a medical (surgical) recovery floor, where he had a small oxygen tube inserted in his nose. However, the family indicates that he still was breathing erratically. The doctors then took him down to dialysis to drain fluid from his body, and insert nitroglycerine under his tongue. When the family went down to see how long he would have to be on the dialysis machine, they were told it would take another 22 minutes. This upset the family because Thomas had already received dialysis earlier in the day, and was receiving another treatment within the same day.

"Thomas looked very weak and flushed, and his eyes were rolling around in his head. We were so scared for him. We kissed him and assured him that he would be home by Friday, and then we left. My mother stayed with him overnight on May 8," said Monique.

At 12:30 a.m., May 9, Richardson jumped up from his bed clutching his chest and screaming, "Ma, I can't breathe, my chest hurts!" When the frantic mother went to the nurses station, she was told that there was only one doctor in the entire hospital, and that he was covering the E.R. It was not until 4:30 a.m. that doctors arrived and gave Thomas an aspirin and a sedative to calm him.

"I'm really not sure what they gave him, but soon after he ingested it, he started to complain about a severe pain in his side and in his scrotum. Thomas was unable to urinate as a result," stated Monique.

The time was now 6:30 a.m., and as Lula Richardson was leaving the hospital she asked one of the doctors in charge of caring for her son when he would be moved to a coronary care unit (CCU), since, according to doctors, he suffered a number of mild heart attacks overnight. The only thing the doctor said was that they were waiting for a bed in the unit.

The family states that they placed many calls during the course of the day to find out about Thomas' condition, but they were either put on hold or connected to doctors who didn't know about Richardson's condition. When they finally were able to speak to a doctor, they were informed that Thomas was moved to CCU because he went into cardiac arrest. Fearing for his safety, and thoroughly upset with the way the hospital was treating her family and her brother, Monique sought to have him transferred to Peninsula Hospital Center. This would not happen, as St. John's told them that a receiving doctor at Peninsula would be required to complete the transfer. Moreover, St. John's stated that Thomas' condition was too critical for him to be moved out of the hospital.

As the day progressed, the family continued to call the hospital for information, but got nothing. Frustrated, Monique and her sisters decided to go up to St. John's to confront the doctors and nurses after being told repeatedly that the nursing staff was in a meeting. Just as they were about to leave, at 1:45 p.m., the phone rang.

"I picked up the phone and someone asked for my mother. I told them who I was, and they introduced themselves as a doctor from St. John's Hospital. I asked how my brother was doing and was he okay, and he said no in a very callous voice. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, â018He just died', and hung up the phone.

The Wave, in conjunction with the family, had an opportunity to obtain and review the medical documents (Doctor's Order Sheets, medication logs and EKG readings) of Thomas L. Richardson, after Monique Richardson demanded that hospital officials turn them over. The reports raise a number of serious questions regarding the treatment Richardson received. For example, the one report stated that Richardson died of congestive heart failure, but the doctors who treated him, (Dr. Natalya Krichmar, Dr. Jiang Ping Gan, Dr. Bogdan Cristeiscu, and doctor identified only as "Dr. Do") are all medical residents, and not specialists in the field of cardiology. Moreover, there is nothing in the reports to indicate that a heart specialist ever evaluated Richardson. Reports show that nephrologists (kidney specialists), interns and residents were largely responsible for treating him.

Other documents show that enormous amounts of different medications were injected into Richardson on the day he died, and two EKG printouts, recorded on different dates, showed that Richardson's heart rate was extremely erratic up until the time of his death.

Monique Richardson took the x-rays and records obtained from St. John's and gave them to a renowned doctor in the field of cardiology and pulmonary disease. The doctor, who does not want his name disclosed, reviewed them and stated, "In my opinion, I think the hospital really botched this up, badly. They could've saved this guy, but they waited too long to treat this man."

"My son was afraid of this hospital. He used to call it the "Horror Hotel" because of the dialysis and the way he was treated. My son is dead. My son is gone," said the weeping mother.

"I want someone at St. John's to tell me why my brother was not treated as a priority. If there were not enough beds, procedure dictates that you move a stabilized patient from CCU to a regular floor. I work in a hospital for God's sake, so I know how the system works," said the victim's sister.

In an attempt to present the story as fair and balanced, The Wave gave St. John's Episcopal Hospital South Shore a two-week timeframe to respond to our investigation. They released the following statement, near the end of the two-week period, regarding the death of Thomas L. Richardson.

"We have met with the family, and we are aware of the specifics of the case. We sympathize with the family's loss and extend to them our sincerest condolences."

The Richardson family is not satisfied with the statement issued by St. John's.

"They did everything too late, and they know it. What happened to patient's rights, concerns, and the values of quality, commitment, respect and caring for patients? There was a lack of responsiveness when my brother pleaded for help, and that ultimately cost him his life. They didn't take action until the situation began to spin out of control. What happened to Thomas was outright negligence, and something must be done to keep them from killing anyone else," said Monique, as she held her sobbing mother.

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