TAMPA — A little more than six years ago, Lisa-Maria Carter had an operation to remove a benign ovarian cyst. She ended up losing her hands and feet.
A Tampa jury on Friday awarded Carter more than $109 million in damages from the University of South Florida. The surgery took place at Tampa General Hospital through USF’s college of medicine, which employed the surgeon.
Carter, 52, endures constant abdominal pain, the result of a surgical error, the near severance of her small intestine, she alleged in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Flesh-eating bacteria decimated her lower bowel. Complications led to gangrene in her hands and feet, requiring four amputations below her knees and elbows.
She had a career as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Defense and had worked at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. She now uses a wheelchair and requires assistance for simple tasks like eating and bathing.
"It’s very hard emotionally," she said Monday at the St. Petersburg rehabilitation center where she lives. "I try to keep my head up and not worry about it."
Carter said she was elated to learn a jury had ruled in her favor. The verdict came after a two-week trial. Two other trials ended in hung juries.
Her troubles began in late 2010. She had just landed a new job that required her to be sent to Iraq. She was close to retirement after a long career as an civilian intelligence analyst. She knew about the ovarian cyst, but felt no pain from it.
As she was about to board a military plane in Fort Benning, Ga., medical personnel told her she would have to stay behind until she could be medically cleared.
She returned to Tampa, where a gynecologist recommended outpatient surgery at TGH, which hosts the physicians and medical residents of USF’s medical college.
Carter visited the hospital on Nov. 1, 2010, for what was supposed to be a non-invasive outpatient surgery, according to the lawsuit. Dr. Larry Glazerman, who was then USF’s director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery, operated.
During the procedure, Glazerman sliced through a portion of Carter’s small intestine, according to the lawsuit. He then closed up the wound without addressing the damage.
After the surgery, her blood pressure dropped far below normal, to 67 over 48. A nurse guided her to a bathroom when her incision opened and emitted large amounts of bloody fluid. She later went into respiratory failure with signs of sepsis, the court record states.
Days later, Dr. Christopher Hults reopened Carter’s surgical wound and found the intestine nearly sliced through, the record states. Flesh-eating bacteria consumed parts of her intestines, stomach and abdominal muscles. She endured several more operations as doctors cut away the decaying tissue.
Medicine that the doctors administered to boost Carter’s blood pressure caused blood to flow away from her limbs, the suit states. That led to the gangrene.
The years that followed saw her slow and painful recovery. In time, she learned to sit up in bed and to walk using prosthetic legs. But she still requires constant care.
Carter sued TGH and USF in 2012. In the first trial, a judge ruled the hospital could not be held responsible.
Her attorney, Ken Dandar, explained that was because Carter had signed a form which stated that physicians exercise their independent judgment, absolving the hospital of potential liability. But the case against USF continued.
To collect, Carter will have to seek passage of a claim bill through the state Legislature. As a state-funded institution, USF is shielded from exposure in lawsuits through Florida’s sovereign immunity law, which caps damages in such cases at $100,000.
"I would hope that they’d simply adopt the verdict," Dandar said. "For the USF administration and Board of Trustees to force my client to go to trial, not just once but three times, is a disgrace."
USF can also appeal the case.
"The University of South Florida has great sympathy for Ms. Carter and we recognize the life-changing injuries she has suffered," USF spokeswoman Lara Wade-Martinez said in a statement. "We also believe that the verdict that was delivered was not supported by the evidence. We will be carefully evaluating several grounds for appeal."
Glazerman is still a licensed physician in good standing in Florida. He is currently the medical director for Planned Parenthood of Delaware, according to his LinkedIn page.
Carter said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of what she has endured. In the years since she lost her limbs, she has earned a master’s degree in forensic psychology through an online university. She hopes in the future to be able to counsel veterans who have lost limbs and suffered psychological damage from war.
Her immediate plans include visiting the Cleveland Clinic for further treatments to repair her abdomen and to help her to sit up straight. If she sees any part of the jury’s award, she hopes to move into a house that can accommodate her condition and to obtain seven-day-a-week rehabilitation therapy.
Her attorney intends to take the case to the Legislature.
"They should know who Lisa-Maria Carter is and how she’s served her country all these years," Dandar said. "They could speak to the powers that be at USF and say, ‘Let’s get it done.’"
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.