Family: Doc declared live man dead
By The Washington Post
Feb. 1, 2018 at 12:21 a.m.
He was legally dead, but dead men don't breathe. Or follow you with their eyes. Or squeeze their wife's hands.
But for two hours and 40 minutes after Michael Cleveland was pronounced deceased at a hospital in suburban Buffalo, New York, on Oct. 10, 2014, his grieving family members watched signs of life flicker over the 46-year-old's body, according to newly filed documents in the family's lawsuit. His tongue tried to push out the endotracheal tube snaked down his throat. His chest continued to rise with air. His knees bent and straightened on the gurney.
When Cleveland's wife, Tammy, his son Ellis, 13, and other family members pressed Gregory Perry, a young emergency room physician, to recheck the patient, the doctor said no, according to the suit. The man's chest was only moving because he had a lot of air to expel, he said. Cleveland, felled by a heart attack, continued to stir. Even the Niagara County coroner dispatched to the DeGraff Memorial Hospital to collect the body was unnerved by the man's state.
"Dead people don't move," the coroner protested to the doctor and nurses at the hospital. "He needs to go in there and check his pulse," he recounted in a deposition.
Finally, Tammy drew Perry's attention to a vein throbbing on her husband's neck, she said told the court. "Look, that's a pulse."
"Oh my God," the doctor relented. "He's alive."
"No (expletive)," Cleveland's wife said. "I've been telling you that for hours."
Unfortunately, Cleveland would not make it, succumbing hours later after being transferred to a larger hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center.
As The Washington Post reported in October 2015, the death resulted in a negligence lawsuit against the doctors and medical providers involved. The defendants — including Perry and DeGraff Memorial's operator Kaleida Health, among others — have since argued in court filings they acted by accepted medical care standards.
But Cleveland's family says the bungled declaration of death seriously delayed treatment that could have said the patient. "They pronounced him and left him for dead in the ER," the family's attorney, Charles F. Burkwit, told The Post this week. "Meanwhile, the family is watching their loved one as he's abandoned, basically watching him die."
According to the Buffalo News, a New York State Supreme Court judge will hear arguments today on whether the case will move forward. Brian Sutter, the attorney representing Perry, did not immediately return an email for comment. Michael P. Hughes, a spokesman for hospital operator Kaleida, told the News this week the "issue is currently in litigation, so we cannot discuss it at this time."
But in a motion for summary judgment, the defendants have argued that the delay in treatment did not impact Cleveland's chance because an earlier intervention would have made no difference in saving Cleveland's life: he "was never in any kind of shape to have survived" the heart attack in the first place, they argued.
Cleveland collapsed in the early evening of Oct. 10 while shopping with his son. EMS arrived on the scene at 7:43 p.m., finding him unconscious and gasping. He was rushed to DeGraff Memorial, arriving at 8:04 p.m.
Perry, who had only completed his medical residency in June 2013, worked on Cleveland with hospital nurses until 8:29 p.m., when he was pronounced dead.