Diagnosis questioned in Hembree lawsuit — (Spartanburg Herald-Journal)

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Spartanburg Herald-Journal ( SC)

February 23, 1995

Author: Herald-Journal 

UNION – Conflicting testimony surfaced Wednesday about whether doctors should have identified the cause of Stanley Hembree’s fatal situation sooner. William Gelders, Wallace Thomson Memorial Hospital and James R. Wilson are being sued by Rebecca Hembree, the widow of the former county tax assessor. Mrs. Hembree, who is seeking $1.5 million in actual and punitive damages, claims all three failed to provide proper treatment for her husband Nov. 21, 1991, after he ingested antifreeze during an apparent suicide attempt. He died the next day, 30 minutes after being transferred to Mary Black Hospital.

The hospital and two doctors maintain Mr. Hembree did not reveal the lethal ingestion and instead told his wife he took too many antidepressants. Brian Rothemich, an emergency room doctor at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, testified for Wilson. Rothemich, who was asked to review hospital records and give an expert opinion, said Wilson acted properly when he treated Mr. Hembree at Wallace Thomson’s emergency room. Wilson is being sued for $500,000 in actual damages because Mrs. Hembree claims he suspected her husband had ingested something other than pills and didn’t tell Gelders, the attending physician at the time. Rothemich said Wilson did his job by ordering tests and calling a poison control hot line. He said Mr. Hembree’s abnormal lab results would have alerted other doctors without him having to tell them directly.

Bradford Grassmick, a medical expert from Michigan, testified via videotape on behalf of Mrs. Hembree. Grassmick, who reviewed medical records and depositions from doctors and nurses, criticized the level of care given Mr. Hembree. He said Gelders might have prevented the suicide gesture by taking him off of the antidepressant Prozac when it became clear he was having side affects. Glassmick said Mr. Hembree’s unusual test results should have led doctors to diagnose the antifreeze ingestion just as doctors would have recognized classic symptoms for other rare problems such as malaria and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. “This was a striking abnormality that should have been obvious to any physician,” he said. Defense lawyers countered that doctors might have been more successful if Mr. Hembree would have told someone the truth about what he swallowed. The civil trial, which began Monday, is expected to continue through Saturday. Hembree’s lawyers likely will rest their case today.

Copyright 1995 Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)
Record Number:  10B3B2A51CBE5278