Because of her religious beliefs, Linda Grissom, a Jehovah’s Witness, refused blood transfusions in November 2001 that might have saved her life.
Instead, Grissom, 64, of Imperial, a supervisor at a drug company, died at St. Anthony’s Medical Center, about 24 hours after complications from surgery to remove her gallbladder.
In a medical malpractice case in St. Louis County Circuit Court, Grissom’s family is now blaming the surgeon, Dr. Ronald Gaskin.
Specifically, their attorney, Alvin A. Wolff Jr., is accusing Gaskin of negligently cutting the aorta during a procedure called laparascopic cholecystectomy, a less invasive way of removing the gallbladder than open wound surgery.
Gaskin also failed to realize that Grissom had approved the use of a cell saver – a machine that salvages one’s own blood for reuse – and failed to collect enough of her blood with the machine, Wolff said Tuesday in opening statements.
Gaskin’s attorney, Philip Willman, told the jury: “What this case is about is taking individual responsibility for the choices and beliefs we make throughout our lives.”
Willman said Grissom knew bleeding was a possible risk of the surgery and “she accepted responsibility for her refusal to take blood when blood would save her life.”
The defense attorney said the operation was performed in a proper way but bleeding can still result. He said Gaskin did his best but was unable to collect enough blood with the cell saver to be of use to Grissom.
Wolff put Gaskin on the stand as his first witness and got the doctor to admit that he inadvertently nicked or cut the aorta with one of four trocars, tubes inserted in the abdominal area.
Then Wolff talked about Grissom’s blood loss, pouring red liquid from a large jug first into a measuring glass holding two cups and then into wine bottle carafes. Wolff filled nine cups, or four carafes plus a cup, leaving the decanters sitting on the plaintiffs’ table throughout the day.
Gaskin, of south St. Louis County, said he has performed as many as 600 gallbladder removals. He said he had been told by his patient that she would not take blood in any form because of her religious beliefs. He was unaware, he added, of a health directive in records at St. Anthony’s Medical Center that she had signed. In it, she said she would use her own blood collected through a cell saver.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible prohibits them from accepting transfusions of blood from others. Some church members say cell savers are OK; others say they, too, are forbidden.
Brandon Carroll, a surgeon from California, testified that cutting the aorta with a trocar was inexcusable because Gaskin was watching the trocar insertions on a tiny camera inside the abdominal area. Gaskin was also negligent in failing to collect enough blood with the cell saver, Carroll said.
Willman said experts will testify later in the trial that there was no negligence on Gaskin’s part, and that he met the standard of care of his profession.
The pro-Gaskin witnesses will include, Willman said: Dr. Edward Mason, medical director of a surgery center in Atlanta that specializes in bloodless surgery for Jehovah’s Witnesses patients; and Dr. Griffin Trotter, an emergency room physician and ethicist at St. Louis University.
Wolff said he would ask for damages on behalf of Grissom’s three daughters, Patty, Sheila and Lisa; and Gene Grissom, Linda Grissom’s husband of more than 40 years. Gene Grissom was so devastated by his wife’s death, Wolff said, that he shot himself within a month in a failed suicide attempt.
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