Veteran suffers brain damage at Tampa VA, hospital at fault?
Veteran suffers brain damage at Tampa VA, hospital at fault?Photo: Video by fox4now.com
TAMPA - Is a staff shortage at Tampa's VA Hospital responsible for a veteran's permanent brain damage?
The James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital is apologizing and taking responsibility for what happened. But for a family in agony, those words aren't enough.
"This must be so hard on you guys," said Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"I can't put it into words," said Michael Coleman fighting back tears.
Joseph Carnegie, 80, is a decorated Air Force staff sergeant, who served in the Korean War. A soft spoken family man, he liked to say with every problem there's a solution, according to his daughter Natalie Carnegie.
Last August, while on vacation in Florida from Georgia, Carnegie's sugar levels spiked and he was taken to the Miami VA for treatment.
He was later transferred to the Tampa VA for more specialized care and to be closer to home.
"He could talk to us, he recognized his family," said Natalie describing her father's condition when he arrived at the VA. "And he definitely did not have brain damage."
Natalie says she had concerns about staffing levels right away.
"The nurse was complaining that she had too many patients," said Natalie. "She had five patients and was being assigned a sixth patient."
That patient was Carnegie. Because of visiting hours, Natalie says she was forced to leave her father's side. Shortly after doing so, she got a call saying her dad went into cardiac arrest.
"We got to the hospital, we were devastated," said Natalie. "Didn't know what to do."
Carnegie suffered severe brain damage. But Natalie and her husband Michael say no one at the hospital bothered to tell them that until November - three months later.
"No one ever told us that he was brain dead. We didn't have a clue. We found out through the speech pathologist," said Natalie. "They told us they had given him meds that they were going to keep him sedated, kind of like an induced coma, and that's what we were assuming."
"We were really still waiting," said Natalie, "expecting my dad to talk to us again."
To make matters worse, Natalie says a staff member told her to "get over it."
"That's what he told you?," asked Grant.
"So help me God," said Natalie, "to get over it."
"What did you say back?," asked Grant.
"You get over it," said Natalie.
Natalie says the hospital acted negligently by failing to notice a build up of mucus in her father's feeding tube. She says while her father was lying flat on his back fluid was able to build up causing Carnegie to go into cardiac arrest.
The hospital says it's possible that's what occurred but they may never know what really happened.
"What responsibility does the hospital take in that?," asked Grant.
"Well Matt," said the Tampa Va's Chief of Staff Dr. Edward Cutolo, "we're very sorry this happened and I personally apologized to Natalie Carnegie."
Cutolo says he doesn't believe staffing levels were an issue.
"It did happen on our watch and so because of that we have to take full responsibility," said Cutolo.
"Was it due to negligence?," asked Grant.
"Well negligence is determined by the court," said Cutolo. "It was an unfortunate event and we're very sorry that it happened."
But not as sorry as Carnegie's family. They plan to sue the hospital.
"It's not about a monetary lawsuit," said Natalie. "It's about justice."
And love. Natalie's only comfort is that her dad's last words were "I love you."
"I'm grateful for what he said," said Natalie. "It just makes me fight harder."