Gregory Franklin twice had intense, life-threatening reactions going under an anesthetic.
After hurting his knee while playing basketball with his son two years ago, he sought advice from Dr. Thomas Mixa, who diagnosed a complex medial meniscus tear.
Despite his history, Franklin, 54, was put under an anesthetic in May 2018 as doctors prepared to operate on the knee at Palms of Pasadena Hospital. Franklin’s systems failed within minutes, court papers say, and he was soon in a coma. His family ended life support two weeks later.
Weeks after that, Franklin’s mother, Mary Franklin, 80, was taken to St. Antony’s Hospital with shortness of breath. Dr. Steven Levine began surgery and tried to insert a catheter to her left femoral vein but wasn’t successful, moving it to her right vein. Days later he noted that she had developed a hematoma from the unsuccessful insertion, but records say Levine didn’t stop the blood loss.
A day later, Mary Franklin’s heart rate slowed and she died.
Now Fahran Franklin — daughter of Greg and granddaughter of Mary — is suing two separate hospitals and the doctors who operated on her loved ones for medical malpractice.
Fahran Franklin and her family had already been speaking with lawyers at Emerson Straw Injury Law about Gregory Franklin’s case when Mary Franklin died, said lawyer Wesley Straw, who is representing the family on both cases.
Straw said it was an awful coincidence that as he was consulting about Gregory Franklin’s case, there was another death in the family in which a doctor committed malpractice. He said his firm only takes about 25 percent of malpractice cases proposed to them, but that both deaths in this case met their standard.
For Gregory Franklin’s case, the suit states that Mixa knew about the previous times Franklin had struggled under an anesthetic, but went ahead with the surgery anyway.
They suit also states that Mixa’s diagnosis of a medial meniscus tear was incorrect, that the doctor found no evidence of the injury during the surgery. Their suit states that Mixa could have learned that from the beginning by doing an MRI, which was never conducted.
An employee at Mixa’s office told the Tampa Bay Times that the doctor declined to comment for this story. His attorney didn’t return multiple calls seeking comment. A response from Mixa’s lawyers filed in response to the suit denies the allegations.
The others named in the lawsuit are: Dr. Darren Leverenz, the anesthesiologist; Stephen Loud, a certified registered nurse anesthetist; Dr. Samantha Avery, doctor of osteopathic medicine; and Palms of Pasadena.
The lawsuit says Avery didn’t properly evaluate and convey the cardiovascular risks to Franklin, though Avery’s lawyer said in court papers in response to the lawsuit that Franklin was aware of the risk.
The suit also says Leverenz, the anesthesiologist, didn’t attend the procedure and instead deferred to Loud, and that he never spoke with Franklin directly. In a filing, Leverenz’s lawyers denied most of the claims in the lawsuit. Loud’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.
The suit says that not only did Mixa recommend and schedule the surgery, he failed to recognize the start of Franklin’s crash, delaying life-saving procedures.
A spokeswoman for Palms of Pasadena wrote: “We extend our deepest sympathy to the Franklin family for the loss of their loved one. While we understand this is a difficult time for them, we also believe the care we provided was appropriate, and we will defend ourselves through the legal process.”
Mixa, an orthopedic surgeon based in St. Petersburg, has been named in at least eight medical malpractice claims that led insurance to issue payouts since 2001, according to a state database.
Two of the malpractice cases were because of a death. Two involved major damage. In total, about $960,000 has been paid out in malpractice settlements from Mixa’s procedures, the database shows.
More information on the circumstances of those cases aren’t available because the records have been destroyed in accordance with state law, said Mary Ann Londo with the Pinellas County Clerk of Courts.
Mixa also was disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine in 2008. According to state records, he performed an additional surgery on a patient who hadn’t consented to it. He was fined $5,000.
A 2018 study found that orthopedic surgeons like Mixa face a higher chance of being sued for malpractice than other specialists. Jay Wolfson, a University of South Florida professor and specialist in health law, said “for orthopedic surgeons, it’s uncommon for them not to get sued during their careers."
Levine, the operating surgeon in Mary Franklin’s case, has had six malpractice insurance payouts, according to the state database. He was disciplined in 2012 for not properly discussing the risks of a surgery with a patient and not referring them to other doctors who could evaluate the patient’s risk.
Levine’s lawyer, Troy Crotts, filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying that natural grandchildren are not considered survivors of a person unless they’re dependent on that person for support or services, and no evidence was provided that Fahran met that criteria.
Crotts did not respond to calls with request for comment. Multiple phone numbers for Levine appeared to be disconnected or outdated, and he could not be reached.
St. Anthony’s Hospital is also a defendant, but a spokeswoman declined to comment because the case is still ongoing.
Wolfson, who has a law degree and private health law practice, said fewer than 5 percent of malpractice suits go to trial. Most settle because the cost of defending it can be costly. Insurance companies will often settle a claim if the costs of defending it would be higher, he said.
He said that the family losing two people, at two different hospitals, to two different procedures so close to each other would be traumatic.
“It wasn’t the same doctor, the same hospital, the same circumstance, the same disease,” Wolfson said. “They’re separate and these tragedies weigh heavily on families.”
Wolfson said surgeons rely on their own medical judgment, which may vary depending on their training and be interpreted differently by other physicians. He said it’s vital that surgeons explain the risks of a procedure to the patient.
In Franklin’s case, his family says he was nervous about going under an anesthetic and asked the doctor if there were other options. Mixa told him there weren’t any, said Franklin’s wife, Gail, who said she was sitting next to her husband during that conversation.
Notes Mixa made the day after the surgery said Franklin asked to go forward with the procedure. Straw, Franklin’s lawyer, said they take issue with Mixa’s notes.
Franklin went under at 7:52 a.m. on May 3, 2018. Nine minutes into the procedure, Franklin’s systems began to fail, according to records. Staff tried to revive him for an hour, but he was comatose.
Fahran Franklin, Greg Franklin’s daughter, filed the medical negligence lawsuit on Dec. 24 in Pinellas-Pasco County Circuit Court. The suit in regard to Mary Franklin’s death was filed Dec. 6.
Franklin’s lawyers say his crash could have been expected — his two earlier experiences under anesthesia were well-documented and Mixa knew about them, according to the lawsuit.
Straw described Franklin’s death a a “tragedy of errors." He said the doctors didn’t wait for an MRI, didn’t pay attention to Franklin’s prior problems with anesthesia and failed to immediately detect his collapse, resulting in Franklin suffering an anoxic brain injury.
“His death was absolutely preventable,” Straw said. “It was preventable solely by them acting reasonably and not racing to do a surgery.”
Gail Franklin said she misses her husband’s beaming smile. Fahran Franklin misses the advice her father gave her during car rides around town.
Gregory and Gail met at Lakewood Senior High School in St. Petersburg and were together for 37 years. At first she brushed him off -- he was a jock, and older, but the love notes he left in her locker charmed her. He asked her to be his girlfriend on her graduation day.
Greg Franklin stayed home because of issues after a 2005 stroke, and every afternoon he’d make his wife lunch, she said. When she was running late, he’d call to check in and see if she was okay. She would pull into the driveway and see him sitting outside, basking in the sun and beaming at her.
“We just talked about everything,” she said. “He was my best friend.”
Fahran Franklin, 28, jokes that she had her dad wrapped around her finger. When she would leave to go back to college in Miami, her dad would wake up to say goodbye and see her drive away, even if it was 3 in the morning.
“That was just the type of person he was," she said.
She hopes that by filing the lawsuit and talking about it publicly, other families will consider surgery with more caution.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Jay Wolfson has an active health law practice