Blood transfusions would have saved woman's life, doctor says 22, 2004
By William C. Lhotka

Linda Grissom, a Jehovah's Witness, would have survived complications from surgery if she had agreed to blood transfusions, a hematologist at St. Anthony's Medical Center told a jury Thursday.

Dr. Victoria J. Dorr, the hematologist, testified in St. Louis County Circuit Court that Grissom, 64, refused to allow her to start transfusions about five hours after Dr. Ronald Gaskin cut an artery during gallbladder removal surgery on Nov. 20, 2001.

Dorr said Grissom had a tube in her throat to help her breathe but was awake, alert, and unwilling - by shakes of her head - to let Dorr proceed with transfusions that, Dorr told the jury, would have saved her life. Grissom died the next day.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Bible prohibits them from accepting blood transfusions from others, Shermond Lewis and Brandon Collins, congregation elders, testified previously.

Before the surgery, Grissom had signed waivers saying she would not accept transfusions.

Grissom's husband, Gene, and her daughters, Patty, Lisa and Sheila, are suing Gaskin for unspecified damages, claiming malpractice. Their attorney, Alvin A. Wolff Jr., has alleged that Gaskin botched the surgery by nicking the aorta in the procedure.

Gaskin's attorneys, Philip Willman and Matthew Hendricks, say their client was not negligent and should not be blamed for a death the patient could have prevented.

Dorr said she would have put Grissom on a regimen of blood and plasma had the patient agreed to it.

"What would have happened if you had followed that formula?" Hendricks asked.

"I'm sure she would have survived," Dorr said.

Dorr teaches at St. Louis University. She said she tells her students about the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses: "In the United States, we have the freedom of choice. As long as patients are of sound mind and there is no reason to believe they are coerced, you have to follow their choice."

Gaskin had said he got a cell saver - a machine that collects and recycles the patient's own blood during surgery - in operation within two minutes of discovering the bleeding but could not salvage enough to be of use.

Given the nature of the wound, it was unlikely that the cell saver could have made a difference, Dorr suggested.

Gaskin has testified twice during the trial. In both instances, he admitted that complications developed in the operation.

Medical experts have disagreed over whether he was negligent, or failed to meet the standard of care of his profession.

Gaskin, with offices in south St. Louis County, said he has performed nearly 550 such procedures.

Over Willman's objections, Wolff then convinced Judge David Lee Vincent III on Wednesday to let Wolff question Gaskin about prior surgical mistakes.

Gaskin admitted he had cut or nicked arteries in surgeries in 1996, 1997 and 1998, and took a voluntary suspension of privileges at St. Anthony's for 2 1/2 months in 1998. He said he took a one-week refresher course on the procedure at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and returned to practice in good standing.

Gaskin acknowledged that he had not told Grissom or her husband about those previous complications and their blood losses.

"Would you let a doctor with these prior complications operate on your wife?" Wolff asked Gaskin. The judge sustained Willman's objection to the question but refused the defense lawyer's request for a mistrial over it.

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