Heart surgeon given near-fatal dose of painkiller at hospital he worked for 30 years, family's lawsuit claims

The family of a prominent heart surgeon is suing the Florida hospital where he was chief of cardiovascular surgery over claims that staff gave him a lethal dose of painkillers following back surgery that left him in a vegetative state. Dr. Lance Lester’s daughters claim their 74-year-old father suffered a severe brain injury and now can’t walk or talk due to staff negligence at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Fla., WPBF 25 reported.

But the hospital, where Lester was employed for over 30 years, told the news station that the family’s claims are false.

“Dr. Lester was a longtime and valued member of the JFK Medical Center family, and this is a tragic situation for all of us who have known him and worked with him for many years,” the hospital said in a statement sent to WPBF 25. “While our hearts go out to his family, friends and colleagues, we disagree with allegations in the suit and we will present our side through the legal process.”

HEALTH EXPERTS OFFER SOLUTIONS FOR UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF OPIOID CRACKDOWN

The $15 million lawsuit contends that following Lester’s May 9 back surgery, he was given several medications and narcotics for pain relief, including a patient-controlled pump to deliver Dilaudid intravenously.

(Courtesy of WPBF)

“Since Dr. Lester was still in pain from the surgery, Dr. Jusino, a pain management physical on the medical staff at JFK Medical Center, ordered that Dr. Lester be given more Dilaudid,” the lawsuit claims. “Dr. Jusino ordered a 4 mg dose of Dilaudid to be injected directly through his I.V., in addition to the maximum limit dose of up to 3 mg of Dilaudid that he was already receiving through his PCA pump and to increase the PCA maximum limit dose to 4 mg per hour.”

The lawsuit contends that a nurse, Joanna Robinson, administered the painkiller in one dose and “left before monitoring the effects of this massive dose of Dilaudid on Dr. Lester.” It alleges that within minutes, Lester went into respiratory arrest, but that staff failed to respond quickly and that more than 15 minutes passed before Narcan, an opioid antidote, was administered to reverse the effects of Dilaudid.

“The window of opportunity to rescue Dr. Lester was lost,” the lawsuit claims.

DOCTORS CAUGHT BETWEEN STRUGGLING OPIOID PATIENTS AND CRACKDOWN ON PRESCRIPTIONS

Lester’s family told WPBF 25 that he had sought the surgery so that he could play with his 2-year-old grandson pain-free. Lindsay Stortz, Lester's daughter who is a nurse in North Carolina, told the Palm Beach Post that even though he was friendly with top surgeons at the University of Miami's health center, he insisted he had the procedure done at JFK Medical Center.

Stortz said the hospital also failed to notify the Florida Department of Health.

According to the news outlet, Lester had sued the hospital in 2005 claiming that it had conspired to ruin his career and defame him after JFK Medical Center temporarily suspended him over "quality of care issues" in 2003. The hospital had claimed that Lester's mortality rate was too high, which he contested due to the high-risk nature of his work. He was reinstated after a hospital committee found his mortality rates were "acceptable."

“He’s just the type of person that loves life, loves his family, loves to be around people,” Stortz told the news outlet. “And it’s just so horrifically sad that now he’s not able to enjoy any of those things.”

Lester spent a month at an undisclosed hospital in Miami, and then was moved to a rehabilitation center in Boston. The family plans to move him again to a facility in Houston to continue treatment, while attorney David Spicer has asked for an expedited trial date.

“Unfortunately in Florida, if Dr. Lester passes away the lawsuit ends,” Spicer told WPBF 25.