June 03, 2020
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Millinocket man describes health struggle in lawsuit testimony

BANGOR, Maine — A Millinocket man who had emergency surgery in February 2011 to repair his heart valves told a jury that he can do most of the things he did before a strep infection went untreated for eight months, “but it’s a struggle.”

John Pierce, 71, and his wife, Clara Pierce, 63, sued St. Joseph Hospital, his physician, Dr. Edward Dunstan, and Millinocket Regional Hospital, where the doctor is employed, in Penobscot County Superior Court in 2012.

The couple claims the results of a blood test ordered the night of May 31, 2010, when he visited St. Joe’s emergency room, were never sent to Dunstan and that in spite of the patient’s continued complaints, the doctor never asked for them.

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.

John Pierce, who appeared in the courtroom for the first time Thursday, told the jury his symptoms began nearly six years ago in the spring. During direction examination, Pierce told his lawyer he felt like he had the flu with a low-grade fever and extreme fatigue.

“I would feel good in the morning and at 3 in the afternoon, I’d start feeling bad and go to bed,” he said. “Sometimes, I’d get up for supper and, other times, I’d sleep until morning.”

Between his visit to the emergency room and his surgery the next year, Pierce went to see his doctor six times and was referred to specialists. Some physicians, including Dunstan, prescribed antibiotics, which made him feel better for between a few days and a few weeks but after he finished taking them, he felt ill again.

The symptoms kept returning until he went to the emergency room on Feb. 12, 2011, and went into cardiac arrest, he testified. He was sent by LifeFlight to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where surgery was performed the next day.

Pierce said he was at EMMC recovering from heart surgery when he learned the test performed the previous May had been positive for strep but the results never were sent to his doctor.

“That was an unbelievable thing,” he testified. “I was very upset hearing that. It still bothers me today.”

Pierce said that although his lawsuit is seeking damages, it is “not about the money.”

“We filed the lawsuit because of what was done to me, what was done to my family and to stop it from happening to someone else,” he testified.

In his opening statement, the Pierces’ attorney, Benjamin Gideon of Lewiston, said that if his client had been placed on intravenous antibiotics for about four weeks, the surgery and heart damage could have been avoided.

Under cross-examination, Pierce said that he does not remember the content of his conversation with a St. Joe’s employee who, according to documents, called to tell him the blood test was positive for strep. He also testified he does not recall telling Dunstan at an appointment four days later that the result of his blood tests were negative, even though the doctor’s notes indicate Pierce did so.

St. Joseph Hospital attorney James Martemucci of Portland told the jury on Tuesday 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.

 


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