NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A mother of three is suing her former doctors, alleging that her stroke and coma would have been averted had they performed a different diagnostic test.
Ashley Wise says she was healthy, was capable of raising her children, and had a promising nursing career . Now, she’s lost the use of her hand, part of her vision, has continuous headaches and other problems.
The defense attorney says his clients, who treated Wise on two occasions in an emergency room, followed their training and ordered the right tests.
In the fall of 2012, Wise gave birth to her third child, Christian. Six weeks after delivery, her problems started with neck stiffness and severe “thunderclap” headaches.
“I was down on the floor in the fetal position for hours,” Wise recalls. Her husband Greg didn’t know what to do.
“I remember the pain got so bad at one time I saw her teeth chatter, and I’m scrambling to figure out what do I do, what do I say?”
Her primary doctor ordered a spinal tap at a local emergency room to check for two conditions: meningitis and brain hemorrhage.”I went in, told them I needed a spinal tap done, waited and then saw a doctor who then didn’t perform the spinal tap,” Wise said.
The defense attorney, however, says the first two people to treat Wise, Doctor Troy Myers and Physician’s Assistant Jaen Nunez, did go out of their way to see if Wise had a brain hemorrhage. They performed an MRI instead of a spinal tap.
“They did some blood work, they did some lab work, and they ordered a very specialized test that’s rarely performed in an emergency department setting called an MRI,” said defense attorney Rod Dillman.
Dillman says a specialist looked at the MRI results and saw no evidence of a hemorrhage. Wise’s symptoms persisted, and two days later she returned to the emergency room where she was treated by Doctor Elena Garrett, but again did not get a spinal tap. Garrett, Myers and Nunez are the defendants in Wise’s $2 million lawsuit, the maximum allowed for a medical malpractice case in Virginia.
A few days after seeing Garrett, Wise got the first sign that she was about to have a stroke. “I had the newborn in his car seat, I was coming down the flight of stairs, and I had complete paralysis on the left side of my body. I literally had to pick my left leg up and drag it outside.”
Wise returned to the hospital a third time, seeing yet another doctor who’s not part of the lawsuit. She demanded the spinal tap.
“We just looked at them and said something is wrong with me, I don’t know what it is but you need to figure it out because I’m not getting sent home again.” Wise got the spinal tap, and red blood in the spinal fluid showed Wise had a brain hemorrhage, which led to a stroke, and then she went into a coma.
“When my wife was in that coma, I spent three weeks of my life praying in the (hospital’s) chapel,” Greg Wise said.
Ashley Wise survived, but lost days she will never recover. “And the next thing I know is I wake up in the ICU two and a half weeks later. I wake up and I don’t know where I am and I have three children at home.”
Wise says one of the damaging after-effects of the stroke was partial blindness.
“I’m not able to drive,” she said. “When I look in the mirror I only see half of my face, or I used to see half of my face, now I don’t see my face at all. I just see my forehead.”
The stroke left her with several other problems including weakness on both sides, no control of her right hand, continuous headaches, and hyper-sensitivity to light and sound.
The defense attorney says his clients chose not to perform the spinal tap because that procedure can cause problems. “It’s an invasive procedure with its own set of risks and complications that comes with it. No emergency department physician ever wants to provide unnecessary testing to a patient,” Dillman said. “You’re talking about a needle going into a patient’s spine.”
Dillman says the results of the MRI they did perform were analyzed by a neuroradiologist, and had shown no brain hemorrhage. “That was done in part to rule out meningitis and also rule out subarachnoid (brain) hemorrhage. That test was read as completely normal.”
Wise says she spends most of her days indoors because she is hyper-sensitive to sound and light. The loss of vision limits her ability to raise her kids.
“I don’t know the last time I’ve gone out with my children. I can’t even walk them to the bus stop because of my visual issues. I can’t sign my name on anything.”
Wise says when she returned from the hospital following the coma, she could not care for her newborn son. “I couldn’t change him, I couldn’t give him a bath, I couldn’t feed him. I had to rely on other people to take care of my baby, and that’s something nobody can ever give me back.”
The defense attorney says his three clients have sympathy for Wise. “They know that it has to be distressing to her to have this life-changing event, but my clients are very confident in the care that they provided, and are confident that they complied with the standard of care at all times,” Dillman says. “They wanted to rule out every possible disease process that they could, and certainly given Ms. Wise’s history and symptoms, they did exactly that. They look forward to clearing their names in court.”
Greg Wise says his wife’s case has changed the way he looks at doctors.
“I’ve found myself definitely willing to second-guess. Double check, ask more detailed questions. That’s definitely my approach for any procedure that goes on with my wife. You have to be somebody that has established some kind of success rate with her before you’ve earned my trust,” he said.
Ashley Wise is resigned to the notion that her damage could be permanent.
“It’s not something where I can just wish one morning I’m going to wake up and I’ll be perfectly fine like none of this has ever happened,” she said.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, the Wises say their faith will pull them through. They plan to share their experience with other families in similar situations to give them hope.
“I believe that she is here for a reason, and I believe that our story will take where it’s supposed to go for a reason. And I believe in that, more than money,” said Greg Wise. “We believe in our cause, we don’t want this to happen to any other families.”
The trial date for the lawsuit is March 10, 2015 unless the case would be settled out of court.