Plaintiff claims surgeon caused lingering distress


A woman testified yesterday that the conduct of a surgeon caused her to develop multiple personalities and other problems, including flashbacks and nightmares relating to sexual abuse as a child.

Linda Burt, 47, of Westminster is suing Drs. Donald D. Coker and John E. Steers on several counts, including malpractice, not obtaining her informed consent for treatment, and battery by Dr. Coker.

The case is being heard before Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold.

Much of the suit focuses on Dr. Coker's conduct, but she claims that Dr. Steers should not have left her in Dr. Coker's care, and that Dr. Steers didn't respond adequately when she told him about her problems with Dr. Coker.

Under cross-examination by Susan Boyce, the lawyer representing the doctors, Ms. Burt acknowledged a history of visits to psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as a malpractice suit she filed against a gynecologist in an unrelated matter. Ms. Boyce read aloud the diagnosis of a psychiatrist who saw Ms. Burt before her mastectomy, and who evaluated her as having multiple-personality disorder. But Ms. Burt said she didn't know of that diagnosis until after the mastectomy, and that the psychiatrist who gave it had seen her for only 20 minutes.

Earlier, as she was questioned by her lawyer, Judith S. Stainbrook, Ms. Burt said she was sexually abused by her father and raped by one of her brothers. She had undergone therapy about those incidents, but said she never had multiple personality problems or post-traumatic stress disorder until after being treated by Dr. Coker.

Ms. Burt testified yesterday that she had gone to Dr. Steers in 1989 about a lump in her breast, which he determined to be cancer after a biopsy. Dr. Steers performed a mastectomy in May of that year, Ms. Burt said. Soon after that operation, Dr. Steers had to have back surgery, and Dr. Coker continued Ms. Burt's care.

Ms. Burt said she developed an infection near her wound and antibiotic treatment was only partially successful. She said Dr. Coker told her the complications could include septicemia and even gangrene, and that he had an infectious-disease specialist examine Ms. Burt.

Ms. Burt said the infectious-disease physician told her she would recommend a surgical procedure, and nurses told Ms. Burt the procedure would be in the operating room.

But when Dr. Coker came in the next morning, she testified, he seemed agitated and said he hadn't asked to use the operating room. She said he was soon putting on gloves and reaching into the wound without warning her what he was doing, and without any pain medication.

She said Dr. Coker treated her post-surgical infection in a way that caused her "excruciating pain" and emotional trauma.

She said that when she saw him the next day, she told him not to touch her until a nurse could come in. She said he agreed not to touch her, but looked at the wound. She said he became curt and left the room.

She said she called Dr. Steers about his associate's conduct. "Dr. Steers tried to be sympathetic," she said, but urged her to give Dr. Coker another chance.

Ms. Burt testified that she didn't want to be treated by Dr. Coker, but that he did come in the next day and "was much better."

Ms. Burt said she went into a depression, and by the end of the year entered Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital for 30 days. When her insurance ran out for the hospital, she continued in care at Springfield Hospital Center for two weeks.

She said she had flashbacks of the sexual abuse and of the way Dr. Coker treated her infection. She said she also had nightmares that Dr. Coker was raping her.

Lawyers said they expect the trial to continue through Monday.

Ms. Burt is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.

She was awarded $125,000 by the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Board, but the doctors appealed.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad