Patient says doctors ignored his concerns


by Diane Moca

DELAVAN -- Julie Ryan will never forget the day a doctor told her husband that he was in grave danger from an infection near his heart, after months of complaining to other doctors who didn't believe him.

"If my husband would've died, that would've been the worst thing in the world -- the absolute worst thing in the world," insists Julie.

Bob Ryan says the doctor told him "another day or two, the infection would have been in your heart, and you could have been dead. That's how scary it was."

Yet Julie was angry because she and Bob believe this brush with death -- along with $100,000 in unpaid medical bills -- all could have been avoided when Bob first told his doctor he suspected an infection four months earlier.

"Why didn't they do something about it then?" wondered Julie.

Medical records show Bob complained of complications in October 2008, a month after Dr. Douglas Bryan replaced Bob's pacemaker at Mercy Harvard Hospital in Illinois because the device's eight-year-old battery was dying.

Bob says Dr. Bryan didn't believe he had an infection despite the patient's concerns after surgery, and neither did Dr. Christopher Ostromecki.

"What should have been an outpatient event, and I should have been fine for eight years, turned into a scary four months and a horrifying week!" exclaimed Bob.

Two months after surgery in November 2008, medical records show Bob told Dr. Ostromecki he had "concerns over a possible infection to his pacemaker implantation site... discomfort and sharp pains."

The doctor wrote in the records: "At that point it was felt to be not infected."

The next day, Dr. Bryan noted: "There does not appear to be any evidence of infection."

"I really insisted he should do something. He said, i'll put you on a half course -- these are his words -- i'll put you on a half course of antibiotics," recalls Bob.

Two months later, Dr. Ostromecki wrote that Bob complained again "of redness around the site."

"He said, I see nothing wrong except that red spot," explains Bob. "He says, Have you been picking at it or scratching it? He had asked me this before. I said no. He asked, Do you wear suspenders? I said no. I said, I've been telling you since September there's something wrong here! He dismissed it."

So the Bob made an appointment with his general practioner, Dr. Bob Fasano.

"By the time I had gotten to see Bob Fasano, a wire had eroded through my chest," declared Bob, a realtor from Delavan.

When Dr. Fasano saw that, he sent Bob immediately back to the facility where the surgery was done to Dr. Bryan, who noted in medical records that he saw "a 1 to 1.5-cm wound with exposed pacemaker."

"They kept me overnight. The next morning, Dr. Ostromecki and Dr. Bryan both walked into my room and said, This is beyond our scope," described Bob.

CBS 58 tried to contact the two doctors. Dr. Bryan did not return our calls or emails. Dr. Ostromecki -- who since left Mercy Health System -- told us repeatedly,"I don't know anything about this" and eventually hung up.

"They wanted to send me by ambulance," remembers Bob.

According to medical records, both doctors told Bob to immediately rush to Aurora-St. Luke's in Milwaukee on February 21, 2009 -- after five months of complaints about a warm, red spot that seemed infected during follow-up visits.

"I laid in bed for two days while they ran intravenous antibiotics. They took the pacemaker out," explained Bob.
The Aurora-St. Luke's doctors put a new pacemaker on Bob's right side to insure it would be far away from the wound site.

Because the new placement is so close to his collar bone and on his right side, Bob says he can no longer do certain exercises and has subsequently gained 40 pounds.

He said he has also had to learn to carry pellets for his stove and salt for his water softener another way besides over his right shoulder.

"This whole situation has been so hard and so stressful. Everything in our life changed," lamented Julie.

Bob says the five days in Aurora-St. Luke's Medical Center saved his life but could kill him financially.

He says he covers all his own medical costs since he's "uninsurable" due to his heart condition.

He says no lawyer will take his case since the pay-out would be too small because he survived.

Bob says he doesn't "have the money to pay" tens of thousands of dollars to Aurora-St. Luke's Medical Center, even though he says they deserve it.

Bob thinks Mercy Health System should pay Aurora-St. Luke's for fixing the mistake he says Mercy doctors made and ignored.

He's been working with a Mercy customer relations specialist for three years to try to accomplish that.

"She has called me and told me they haven't made any decisions yet," noted Bob. "It's the little guy against the big corporation again, and they don't care."

CBS 58 called Bob's customer relations specialist; we were immediately transferred to media relations, who would only issue the following statement: "Patient privacy rights do not permit us to discuss matters regarding patients treated in our facilities. Furthermore, it is our policy not to discuss matters that are the subject of litigation. We thoroughly review all cases and take action to correct the situation."

For now, Bob is waiting for the company to respond, with more than $100,000 in medical bills still unpaid.

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