Members of the family of an 82-year-old cancer patient who died after surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center mistakenly sewed shut his intestine have agreed to settle their medical malpractice suit.
The settlement was reached as the case was set for trial yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court. The terms were not disclosed under an agreement by both sides.
The suit alleged that surgeons tried to cover up mistakes made when a cancerous section of Theodore Kozowyj's colon was removed on Oct. 14, 1984. The surgeons learned later from an autopsy that they had made a surgical error, the suit said, but they failed to report the accidental death as required by law.
"It was settled for a substantial sum," said Baltimore lawyer Marvin Ellin, who represented the Kozowyj family. "I don't use the word substantial lightly."
"My ongoing reaction to the circumstances of my father's death and what we were told as to what caused his death is still one of outrage," Waldomiro Kozowyj said last night. "My father died a horrible death. I am infuriated that, in addition to the circumstances of his death, that my family was not told the truth.
"I hope that our lawsuit will result in two things: that a colostomy bag is not put on the wrong end of a colon [again] and, above all, that if a mistake is made that the patient's family be told the truth."
Surgeons mistakenly sewed closed the part of Kozowyj's colon coming from the upper digestive tract, court records show. They then attached the lower portion of the colon, coming from the rectum, to a colostomy bag, which is worn outside the skin to collect fecal matter.
In a deposition filed in court, Dr. H. Harlan Stone, who conducted the procedure, admitted that he mistakenly tied the wrong end of the colon.
Kozowyj died Oct. 24, 1984. The death certificate completed at the hospital listed cardiac arrest as a result of "cardiopulmonary insufficiency," but an investigation by the state medical examiner later revealed that Kozowyj died as a result of a surgical mistake.
The new death certificate gave the cause of death as "bowel obstruction due to surgical closure of the proximal end of the colon" and "arterioscleritic and cardiovascular disease."
Originally filed with the state Health Claims Arbitration Office in 1986, the suit was transferred to Baltimore Circuit Court last February.
It was was filed in behalf of Kozowyj's son and daughter -- Waldomiro Kozowyj and Nadja Hardy. The defendants were Stone, former chief of University's division of general surgery; Dr. Frederick K. Toy and Dr. Walter Pegoli, who assisted Stone in the Kozowyj operation; Dr. Thomas E. Hobbins, Dr. Chen-Chin J. Sun and the University of Maryland Medical System.
Kozowyj, a retired carpenter from the Ukraine who settled in southeast Baltimore, was admitted to University Hospital Oct. 13, 1984, complaining from abdominal pain. An X-ray revealed that his colon was obstructed by a cancerous growth. After surgeons removed part of his colon, Kozowyj's condition steadily declined over the next 10 days.
According to the suit, the surgical mistake by Stone and the others allowed no outlet for digestive matter.
"The blind-ended colostomy which denied expulsion of fecal and gaseous material was a direct and proximate cause of the slow and painful death suffered by this 82-year-old man," the suit said.
In April 1986, the families of four patients who had died under Stone's care -- including the Kozowyjs -- filed medical malpractice actions alleging gross negligence and incompetence. After peer reviews of the cases were highly critical of Stone, hospital officials forced him to resign in June 1986.
In response, Stone filed a $26 million civil suit charging University Hospital officials with denying his constitutional rights when they forced him to resign. U.S. District Judge John R. Hargrove in Baltimore granted a summary judgment for the defendants, and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 1988.