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May 5, 2010 - Trial Recessed as Doctor Accused of Malpractice Faints During Testimony

An Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, doctor defending a medical malpractice lawsuit in Schuylkill County Court fainted Tuesday while listening to testimony and had to be rushed to a hospital.

Dr. Benjamin P. Darhun left the courthouse on a stretcher, and was taken to Schuylkill Medical Center-South Jackson Street while the trial of the lawsuit filed by the Estate of Kathleen A. Vaughn continued in his absence.

However, President Judge William E. Baldwin recessed after hearing only one more witness, and did not say when the trial would continue.

"Where we're going to go after this, I can't tell you," he told the jurors. Baldwin said he would contact the jurors about when and if the trial, which started Monday, would continue.

Vaughn's estate is suing Darhun for unspecified monetary damages, alleging he is liable for her death at age 53 on Nov. 26, 2004.

"I would attribute her death" to a loss of oxygen for her brain, Dr. Robert Buccino testified on Tuesday. "I think it was caused by the combination of drugs this person received. She had no structural abnormalities in her heart,"

That combination included Zoloft, Zithromax and Levaquin, and caused Vaughn's heart to go into cardiac arrest, her estate alleges.

"It would increase the risk if given together," Dr. Tom Lynch, an associate professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, Va., said of giving those three drugs to the same patient.

In particular, Lynch said prescribing Zithromax and Levaquin imperiled Vaughn.

"Use either one or the other," Lynch said. "These two you would never use together."

On Monday, Dr. Michael Greenberg, Lock Haven, testified Darhun should have referred Vaughn to a cardiologist in July 2004 after a test showed her cardiac rhythm was irregular, and should have talked to and seen Vaughn when she called his office on Nov. 17, 2004, and two days later.

Instead, Darhun did not refer Vaughn to another physician in July, and prescribed separate medications in November after each call.

"Throwing another antibiotic at it is not the answer. It's not right," Greenberg said. "It's wrong not to see the patient.

Furthermore, the medications Darhun prescribed, Zithromax and Levaquin, are potentially dangerous when taken at the same time, Greenberg said.

Darhun had testified he spoke with Vaughn after the July test, even though the conversation was not written down.

"She was feeling better," he said.

In his opening statement on Monday, Frederick J. Fanelli, Pottsville, the estate's lawyer, told jurors that Vaughn died because of Darhun's improper care.

"Dr. Darhun does not offer the patient an appointment," he said. "Dr. Darhun does not call the patient."

Also, Darhun prescribed Zithromax on Nov. 17, 2004, and Levaquin two days later, even though they are potentially dangerous when prescribed together, Fanelli said.

"He didn't think about the risk of rhythm problem when he put the patient on Zithromax and Levaquin together," Fanelli said.

In his opening statement, Paul C. Troy, Norristown, Darhun's lawyer, said there will be no testimony that the medicines killed Vaughn, and that there is no real evidence as to the cause of her death.

"What you're going to hear questioned is medical judgment," Troy said.

Darhun acted properly with the information he had available to him about Vaughn's condition, Troy said.

"For these problems, you didn't need to have her come to the office," Troy said.


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