Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Trial date set for eye doctor

Patient claims he lost sight in one eye

Express Staff Writer

A jury will begin hearing testimony and evidence Sept. 9 in a lawsuit filed by a retired Sun Valley physician against the Wood River Valley?s only resident ophthalmologist over loss of sight in one eye after cataract surgery.

In the lawsuit to be tried before 5th District Judge Robert Elgee, Dr. Jerrold Goldman alleges he lost sight in his left eye after Dr. Stephen J. Graham, of Ketchum, performed cataract surgery on July 25, 2000.

Another patient, an unidentified woman, also claimed to have lost sight after surgery the same day, apparently due to an infection described at the time by Graham as alpha strep bacteria. Graham, who performed six cata-ract surgeries that day, reportedly performed 100 such operations per year during that period.

In an unrelated development, the Idaho Board of Medicine last year sus-pended Graham?s medical license for five years for violating the Idaho Medical Practice Act that governs conduct and standards for physicians. He was charged with prescribing thousands of doses of medications for thou-sands of patients he?d never seen or examined, but only chatted with by telephone. He also was placed under probation for similar charges in Ari-zona and Utah, two states where he now works two days each.

Graham?s license as an optometrist to provide eye care and eyeglass prescriptions but not surgery was not affected in any of the three states.

Graham, who opened his Ketchum practice in 1998, has been the target of patient complaints in other Western states. According to his testimony in sworn pre-trial depositions collected in the Idaho lawsuit filed by Goldman, Graham acknowledged he was the target of complaints in three states.

According to his deposition, Graham?s insurance company settled a complaint in 1991 in Colorado that Graham says resulted from his being held responsible for an anesthesiologist keeping ?incomplete records? and using ?inappropriate anesthesia.?

Graham confirmed that two other cases in Arizona were settled in 1991. He gave no details of the cases or terms of the settlements.

Graham confirmed in the deposition in response to a question from Goldman?s attorney, Lee Schlender, that he settled a complaint in 1995 in New Mexico involving a patient who was dissatisfied with surgery.

Schlender has included in the lawsuit?s documents a letter from Graham dated March 12, 1997, applying for disability compensation in which he cited his failing eyesight and unwillingness to perform delicate intraocular surgeries that could include cataracts.

The 1997 claim for disability income from his New York Life policy lapsed. Graham explained in a deposition that he felt New York Life was ?stiff arming? him by offering only partial disability, which he called insuf-ficient for meeting his needs.

But Graham renewed the application in March 2001.

In his new claim, Graham wrote that ?I have had to cease performing intraocular surgery because the best corrected vision in my right eye is less than 20/00 and my left eye is 20/25.? Graham described the condition as pre-phthisis, a medical term for ?a dwindling or wasting away.?

The declining eyesight, Graham wrote, is ?the cumulative injury to the right eye as a result of multiple surgeries.? He didn?t indicate whether his sight problems were the result of surgeries on his eyes, or because of using his eyes for delicate surgeries.

The March 2001 disability claim form contained the statement that his last surgery was performed on July 15, 2000, which would have been 10 days before he performed cataract surgery on Goldman. However, in a sworn deposition, he later corrected that date, saying his last day of surgery was July 25, 2000, the day he conducted the cataract surgery on Goldman.

Two years later in a deposition taken in connection with his disability claim against New York Life and now included in the Goldman lawsuit files, Graham answered a series of questions by his Boise attorney, Donald Farley, on July 11, 2002, about his eyesight:

Q: ?You described your present vision out of your right eye as hand shadows or hand movements only??

A: (Graham): Correct.?

Q: If you close your left eye and look at Mr. Prusynski (Mark Prusynski, a Boise attorney representing New York Life), can you see him??

A: ?No.?

Q: ?Can you see the associate seated next to him??

A: ?No.?

Q: ?Can you see the court reporter??

A: ?No.?

There is no indication in court records whether New York Life approved Graham?s claim of disability or whether he is receiving any disability in-come. In his claim, he estimated his gross annual income at up to $420,000.

Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee verbally approved on Aug. 9 an amended complaint (later filed in writing on Aug. 16) by attorney Schlender against Graham, alleging that ?he (Graham) operated on Goldman when he himself was physically and mentally impaired to the point that, by his own admission, he could not see what he was doing and should not have been practicing surgery.?

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