Malpractice trial begins in Dade City
By CHASE SQUIRES
DADE CITY -- Attorneys for a Dade City woman say a series of doctors misdiagnosed her thunderous headache repeatedly in 1995, treating her for a sinus infection when she really had a fungal form of meningitis that attacked her brain and nearly killed her.
Attorneys for the doctors claim she was suffering from an illness so rare, it was "like seeing a zebra in a corral full of horses," and that no emergency room physician would have thought to test for the ailment.
The sides squared off Wednesday in Circuit Court after taking 21/2 days to pick six jurors and two alternates. The malpractice trial is expected to last three weeks, with expert witnesses flying in from as far as California.
The case is being tried before Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb. The arguments involve 39-year-old Janet Hays Wojcik of Dade City and Drs. David P. Wilcher and George Besser, East Pasco Emergency Consultants Inc. and emergency room provider EMSA Limited Partnership.
In opening arguments, one of Wojcik's attorneys, Scott Murphy, said his client sought help repeatedly, beginning Aug. 7, 1995, for a raging headache she described as the worst of her life.
When she went to East Pasco Medical Center on Aug. 7 and 8, Murphy said, Wilcher diagnosed a sinus infection and sent her home with painkillers and antibiotics.
When she did not get better, she went to Brooksville Regional Hospital with the same symptoms, and Besser ordered a similar treatment.
The pain worsened, and on Aug. 14 she passed out, ending up at what was then known as Dade City Hospital, where Dr. Carl W. Graves examined her and sent her home, Murphy said.
After passing out again the same day, she returned to the Brooksville hospital and a doctor tapped her spinal fluid and discovered she had meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain.
Wojcik received intensive treatment but lost vision in her left eye, required rehabilitation to walk normally and was left unable to concentrate, Murphy said.
Graves, the Brooksville hospital and the former owners of Dade City Hospital settled the case with confidential agreements, Murphy said.
Wilcher's attorney, Tom Dukes, argued that the case is about fairness.
When Wilcher saw Wojcik, she had no symptoms that would lead him to pierce her spine with a needle to test for meningitis. The fungal form of the disease she had contracted, Dukes said, is sometimes seen in AIDS patients but almost never seen in healthy people.
"It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime diagnosis," Dukes said. "It's like seeing a zebra in a corral full of horses."
Besser's attorney, Monty Warren, agreed. When Besser saw Wojcik, he had no reason to suspect that she had a brain ailment, Warren said.
The trial is scheduled to continue today.
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