A Reputation Built By Success

Infection Costs Student His Legs

An Ohio State University freshman who had both his legs amputated last spring after he became infected with a flesh-eating bacteria has sued many of the doctors and nurses who treated him and the hospitals that employ them.

More than 20 parties are named in the lawsuit, including doctors at Ohio Health Corp., Riverside Methodist Hospital, and a doctor employed by OSU Medical Center.

Steven “Blake” Haxton and his family allege that his doctors and nurses failed to diagnose the disease – necrotizing fasciitis – in a timely manner and he lost his legs because of their malpractice.

Haxton, 19, was the senior captain of the rowing team at Upper Arlington High School when he got sick. Despite the illness and amputations, Haxton started classes at OSU in the fall. He has been coping rather well.

He is no longer the emaciated, sickly boy he was months ago. His upper body and arms have once again regained their muscle mass. His demeanor suggests he feels he is no different from anyone else, and he speaks quickly and confidently.

Haxton is a freshman in the honors program, studying economics with a minor in finance in the Fisher College of Business. Before he lost his legs, he was recruited by Harvard University’s crew team but had to give that up because of his debilitating injuries.

Haxton and his family filed the suit Dec. 8 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Court of Claims.

“The family had questions early about if he was properly cared for at the time of his diagnosis,” said Gerald Leeseberg, the lawyer representing the Haxtons. “Experts are saying this [amputation] could have been prevented.”
Last March, Haxton felt pain in his right calf. After a disconcerting visit to the family doctor, who recognized the seriousness of the issue, he was sent directly to the emergency room at Riverside Hospital. The doctor there initially thought the bruising in his calf was from a hematoma, which is a collection of blood outside of blood vessels, Leeseberg said.

“The problem is that his history didn’t support the diagnosis,” Leeseberg said. “He never had a problem like this before. Nothing of this sort of trauma.”

Leeseberg said the ER doctor ordered rudimentary tests for Haxton and dismissed the issue as something benign. At one point Haxton’s mother, who works as a grief counselor for Mount Carmel Hospice, asked the doctor if his condition could be caused by necrotizing fasciitis, but her concern went unheard, Leeseberg said. He was not seen again for several hours.

“At no time did they have necrotizing fasciitis on their differential diagnosis list because of how rare the disease is,” Leeseberg said. “It’s pretty scary when a layperson with rudimentary knowledge can bring this up, but a trained professional dismisses it. I consider that Russian roulette.”
The following morning, Haxton was seriously ill. The infection had spread throughout his entire leg, causing multi-organ failure, Leeseberg said. He went into surgery immediately. But by then, Leeseberg said, it was too late. He was flown to OSU Med Center, where his legs were soon amputated.
Haxton’s left leg did not have to be amputated, Leesburg said.

“The blood supply in his left leg was compromised because of septic shock syndrome,” Leeseberg said. “He was suffering from multi-organ system failure and his heart was also being compromised. His body couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Haxton nearly died. He survived, he said, because he was extraordinarily fit. He attributed his conditioning to the hard work required to compete as one of Ohio’s premier high school rowers.

Mark Hopkins, the director of media relations for Ohio Health, Corp., said he is not at liberty to discuss the suit.
“Although we can’t discuss the specifics of Blake’s case, we want him to know that he has touched us all with his courage and strength. He has been an inspiration to all who have heard his story and seen how he is forging forward through this tremendous challenge. Our thoughts and prayers are with Blake and his family and we hope for his continued progress and recovery,” Hopkins said in an e-mail.

All the damage was done at Riverside, Leeseberg said. OSU is named in the suit as an employer of one of the doctors who cared for Haxton. This is not a criticism of any care given by OSU, Leeseberg said.

“We are aware of the lawsuit and the concerns of the Haxton family,” David Crawford, senior director of media relations for the OSU Medical Center, said in an e-mail. “While we won’t discuss this pending litigation, it is our sincere hope that Blake’s health continues to improve and he excels as a college freshman.”

Haxton travels to and from OSU in a handicap-accessible van with the help of his mother.
He underwent 20 surgeries throughout his ordeal and is now undergoing physical therapy at Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza.

He has been practicing with prosthetics and said he believes he will be walking again as early as spring.
Blake Haxton wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but his mother, Heather Haxton, said some people have criticized the family for suing while others have supported them.

“If only they would understand,” Heather Haxton said. “But this is something I don’t want anyone to ever understand.”

Blake Haxton said the biggest challenge thus far is his inability to play sports like he once used to. But he said this will not deter him from being athletic, because sports such as skiing, fishing and rowing are easy to personalize.

Eventually he wants to head into the world of business, and earn a master’s degree in business administration. His next step? Patience, Haxton said.

“I have to wait for my legs to catch up with me,” he said. “I’m going to focus on school, and exercise so I can regain my strength and work on walking again.”

The lawsuit is not retribution, Leeseberg said. The Haxton family simply wants to provide for Blake’s future, he said.
“We have to look at the extent of his recovery and what he will need to flourish for the rest of his life,” Leeseberg said.

“We are looking at tens of millions of dollars in expenses for Blake in his recovery and future,” Leeseberg said.

By Mariam Khan
OSU Lantern Sunday, January 24, 2010

Contact Leeseberg Tuttle today. Medical malpractice attorneys in Columbus Ohio.