A trusted practice undone by one case
By ANITA KUMAR
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dr. Louis Solomon made front-page news three years ago when he performed a series of complex surgeries to remove a tangerine-size tumor from the face of a young girl from El Salvador.
During his many years as a Tampa Bay area surgeon, Solomon has had more than his share of life-saving cases.
There was the time he operated on the spine of a little boy, allowing him to play baseball for the first time. And when he treated a trio of brothers with the same rare condition, known as water on the brain. He was even credited with bringing a child back from the brink of death after a car accident.
But his life as a respected doctor came to a halt last year after a jury said he was negligent in his surgery on 11-year-old Jessica Roud and socked him with $11-million in damages.
Solomon, the only pediatric neurosurgeon at St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital at the time, shut down his practice, declared bankruptcy and continues to be embroiled in an ongoing legal saga over the jury award.
"I think we lost a great asset," said Ernie Agnew, a retired nurse in Gulfport who worked side-by-side with Solomon in the operating room. "He worked his fingers to the bone. He could have backed off a lot of things, but he didn't. He wanted to save lives."
Solomon's most prominent case was in 1998 when he and another surgeon operated on Maria Cortez, a 3-year-old girl who traveled from El Salvador to All Children's. They removed a life-threatening tumor from her face and rebuilt her nose and eye sockets, though complications led to three additional surgeries in less than two months.
Solomon's departure leaves the Tampa Bay area with only a handful of neurosurgeons, just two of whom specialize in pediatrics, said Dr. John Curran, a pediatrics professor and a dean at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.
Records show that Solomon's license to practice medicine in Florida expires in January, but employees at his former office in downtown St. Petersburg and at area hospitals say the 53-year-old doctor, who had worked in the area since the 1980s, stopped working last year. Though he still carries a title as a voluntary faculty member at USF, he also left that job behind when he closed his practice, Curran said.
Solomon still owns a house in the Old Northeast section of St. Petersburg valued at almost $900,000, according to Pinellas County property records, though he declared bankruptcy in January. He declined to comment to the St. Petersburg Times last year during the trial and did not return phone calls last week.
A Pinellas jury deliberated for three hours in May 2000 before finding Solomon negligent after the Sarasota girl was left paralyzed and blind after brain surgery.
Solomon's attorney, Clifford Somers, said at the time that the doctor followed protocol and described his treatment as successful because Jessica lived five years after the surgery. "Neurosurgeons, after all, are not God," Somers said.
State Department of Insurance records show that Solomon settled a separate medical malpractice case in 1991 after a family accused him of failing to accurately diagnose a 3-year-old boy who later suffered profound brain damage.
Dr. Casey Gaines, a local neurosurgeon who helped recruit Solomon to the area, described what happened to Solomon as a tragedy but said he did not want to comment further unless he received permission from Solomon. He has not heard from Solomon, though he has tried to reach him several times, he said.
The Florida Department of Health does not have a record of any disciplinary action taken against Solomon, and officials there would not comment on whether he was under investigation. Curran, who met Solomon on a few occasions, said he was told Solomon, who has held medical licenses in Maryland and Utah, relocated his practice.
"I know because of the publicity, the hospital had to let him go," said Agnew, the nurse who worked with Solomon.
Hospital officials said Solomon retired from All Children's in September, voluntarily resigned from Northside in January and did not reapply to St. Anthony's last year. Bayfront officials refused to say whether Solomon is on staff or whether he had even worked there.
Some of those he helped lament his loss.
"Dr. Solomon is the rare physician who combines skill, compassion and courage in equal measure," said Ozona resident Davanna Cimino Kilgore, who credits him with saving her son's life. "I cannot adequately describe the feeling I received from him, but I know he feels the despair of the parents of his young patients. And he gives back compassion and strength."
- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.
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