He answered his nation's call, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the divisive Vietnam war. According to a lawsuit Lawrence Johnson has filed against the VA Healthcare System, his patriotism and service has been repaid with substandard care that has resulted in months of hospitalization and ongoing severe health problems.
His medical malpractice claim against the VA has been filed in U.S. District Court.
About a year and a half ago, the then 68-year-old was admitted to Miami's VA hospital for spinal fusion surgery on his neck. After the operation, he had trouble swallowing, so doctors inserted a feeding tube down the back of his throat. The tube was intended to carry liquefied food to his stomach.
Instead, doctors inserted the tube into his right lung. For days, the tube sent the nutrients into his lung rather than his stomach. The mistake caused the veteran to develop a blood infection and pneumonia.
He was hospitalized for three months afterwards. Today, he has difficulty swallowing and speaking as a result.
"It’s bad enough that patients can be victims of below-standard medical care,” his medical malpractice attorney said. “But when you think of a veteran, he’s a Vietnam veteran who saw active duty.
Perhaps the worst part of his ordeal is that the misplacement of the feeding tube was noticed almost immediately by a radiologist who took an X-ray to make sure that the tube had been properly placed the medical resident who performed the procedure.
The radiologist noted in the medical records that the tube might have been misplaced. "Significant abnormality," he wrote on the chart. "Attention needed."
But the attorney says that doctors and nurses at the VA failed to act upon the clear message.
A second X-ray confirmed that the Dobhoff tube was in the wrong place. That report was also clear: "Abnormal orientation and positioning of the Dobhoff tube," it stated. Still, doctors and nurses did not act upon the information.
The next day, a nurse wrote in the chart that the Dobhoff tube "appears to be in the lung," noting that patient was coughing out the tube. Still, the tube remained, pouring liquefied food into his lung until the next day.
After the tube's removal, surgery was required to clean the lung.
It is not clear how the veteran's claim will resolved. But at least he and his attorney can present the evidence and allow a court to decide. Hopefully, his health will soon return and his service and sacrifice will be more properly recognized.