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Suit: Feeding tube error caused death

A Gulfport man who says his wife of 49 years died because of the negligence of a nurse who did not know how to properly use a feeding tube has filed suit against the nurse, her employer and Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

In a wrongful death suit filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court last week, Andrew L. Rhubottom said his wife, Elizabeth, 72, died in 2002 after a nurse overfed her, resulting in food being thrown up and aspirating into her lungs.

"We were constant companions," said Rhubottom, who said he is a retired lawyer and filed the suit himself. "She was my best friend and my best buddy and made life worth living. This really isn't about money. To me, it's a matter of principle."

The nurse, Maria V. Jackson, who could not be reached for comment Friday, worked for Carestaf of Florida, which provided nurses for the hospice. Rhubottom was in hospice's care, the suit said, and all three are named as defendants.

Hospice officials, saying they were unaware of the suit, declined to comment and Carestaf officials did not return a call.

Rhubottom said his wife suffered from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and was expected to live at least two more years. She was on a ventilator and received nutrition through a feeding tube. On Dec. 29, 2001, the lawsuit said, Jackson filled in for one of the nurses who usually cared for Rhubottom.

The suit said Jackson did not follow proper procedures for administering liquid nutrients through a feeding tube, which led to Rhubottom's stomach being "overfilled."

Once food was aspirated into Rhubottom's lungs, the suit said, Jackson could have used a device that sucks out the material, allowing her to breathe again. But Jackson did not know how to operate the device, the suit said.

Rhubottom went without oxygen for some time and lost all brain activity, her husband said. She died Jan. 17, 2002.

Andrew Rhubottom said his wife lingered in a brain-dead state before he decided to have life support pulled. But the night before that was to happen, his wife died anyway, he said.

"I was reluctant to let her go," Rhubottom said Friday. "I wanted to make sure she was really gone."

The suit seeks unspecified damages in excess of $15,000.