Valley Health, hospital named in suit

WINCHESTER – The widow of John H. Smedley Sr., longtime Commissioner of Revenue in Warren County, testified Tuesday in circuit court that she is still trying to learn what happened in Winchester Medical Center in the days before he was declared brain dead on Aug. 24, 2012.

Doris Smedley said that hours after her husband had undergone a heart operation, his second within a day, she entered his hospital room where he appeared to be still unconscious.

Smedley said she knew something had gone seriously wrong when she received a call at home earlier in the day from the medical staff asking her to return to the hospital after her husband’s first heart surgery.

John Smedley had appeared to be doing well when she left him earlier in the day, but she heard a different story from the attending doctor when she arrived at the hospital that night.

Smedley testified that Dr. Kenneth Saum told her there had been an “incident” that had deprived her husband of oxygen to the brain. The doctor, Smedley testified, “was a little concerned.”

Smedley said she began talking to her husband in the hospital room in an attempt to wake him up from what she thought was a medically induced sleep.

Smedley said a nurse in the room spoke up: “No, honey. He’s dead. We lost him last night.”

A shocked Smedley said she had waited patiently for hours after the second operation with no inkling until then that her husband had died.

“No one came to talk to me,” Smedley said. “If it hadn’t been for that nurse, we wouldn’t have known he was dead.”

Smedley has been looking for answers since then. She is suing Winchester Medical Center and Valley Health System for $3 million, accusing them of medical malpractice in John Smedley’s death.

Her testimony came on the second day of a jury trial scheduled to continue through Friday.

Under questioning from her attorney, Catherine D. Bertram of Washington, D.C., Smedley testified she still doesn’t know what went wrong after John Smedley’s first heart operation.

“I can’t let it go until I find out what happened to him,” Smedley said. “That’s why I filed the lawsuit.”

Smedley’s written complaint states that John Smedley, 64, underwent a four-hour operation that included coronary grafting of four blood vessels on Aug. 23.

The complaint states that a nurse, identified as Melanie Spiva, failed to pay full attention to Smedley in the evening.

“She failed to assess his blood loss, failed to notify the surgeon of changes in his clinical condition and she failed to appreciate his deterioration,” the complaint states. “Further, nurse Spiva left the floor without ensuring Mr. Smedley was stable.”

Dr. F. Lee Tucker, a witness testifying on behalf of Smedley, told the jury that the cardiac arrest that led to the fatal deprivation of oxygen to John Smedley’s brain could have been averted had Smedley undergone his second operation earlier in the night. Smedley, Tucker said, could have been expected to live a normal life span of 79 ½ years for someone of his age and sex if the operation had been done sooner.

“In my opinion, if this deprivation of oxygen to the brain could have been avoided, his death could have been avoided,” Tucker said of Smedley.

Attorneys for Winchester Medical Center and Valley Health Systems are scheduled to call their witnesses today and Thursday.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or

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