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Defendant Physician Testifies in John Ritter Wrongful-Death Trial

A radiologist who performed a body scan on John Ritter two years before he died testified Wednesday that he felt sorry for the actor when he saw the results because Ritter had coronary heart disease at a relatively young age.

However, Dr. Matthew Lotysch told the jury hearing a wrongful-death lawsuit that the ailment that ultimately killed Ritter — an enlarged aorta — was not evident at that time.

"His aorta appeared normal," Lotysch testified. "I don't recall if I measured it or not."

Lotysch and cardiologist Joseph Lee are being sued by Ritter's family for $67 million. Lee attended Ritter when the actor came to a Burbank hospital on Sept. 11, 2003, and diagnosed a heart attack, not an aortic dissection.

At the time, Ritter, 54, was starring in the sitcom "8 Simple Rules ... for Dating My Teenage Daughter."

Lotysch was called as an adverse witness by the lawyers representing Ritter's widow, Amy Yasbeck, and Ritter's children in a proceeding which is similar to cross-examination.

Attorney Moses Lebovits confronted Lotysch with opinions from a plaintiffs' expert who said that if Ritter's aorta measured beyond 4.0 centimeters to 4.5 centimeters in diameter it would be life-threatening.

Lotysch said he did not agree with that finding.

Jurors were shown a report that was issued to Ritter after the scan was completed.

"Mr. Ritter left with this piece of paper," said Lotysch, noting that it said he had a probability for significant coronary artery disease and should follow up with his internist or cardiologist.

He said he did not tell Ritter that his life was in danger because he isn't a clinician could not make that judgment. He also said he did not want to send Ritter out in a panic.

Lebovits showed jurors a promotional brochure for the scan which said "this is the path to peace of mind."

The doctor agreed that was why many people came in to have such scans.

Lotysch said that even if Ritter's aorta measured 4.0 centimeters, "That is still normal."

"If it got larger, it would be life-threatening?" asked Lebovits.

"I would not have told him that," Lotysch said. "I'm not a clinician. I would refer that to a physician or cardiologist who followed up."

"If it was 5.0, would you tell him it was life-threatening?" asked the lawyer.

"Certainly," said the witness.

Under questioning by defense attorney Stephen C. Fraser, Lotysch said he was not aware of a book written by one of the plaintiffs' experts because it had not been published at that time. The book places the danger zone at 4.0 centimeters to 4.5 centimeters.

Lotysch said he still has not heard of the book outside of the Ritter litigation.

He said that what was clear from the scan was that Ritter had calcification in three separate vessels of the heart.

"I think we spent a lot of time talking about it," the radiologist said. "I'm relating to him because we were the same age. I feel sorry for this man and I want to help him. This is not something that a man of his age should have. I told him to do something about it."