OTTAWA- The eastern Ontario region’s top public health physician is being sued for prescribing birth control pills to a teenaged woman who shortly after suffered a paralyzing stroke.
The civil suit, now being heard in an Ottawa court-room, alleges negligence on the part of Dr. Robert Cushman, who became the region’s medical officer of health in November 1996.
In May of 1990, when she was 19, Judy Mozersky was prescribed the oral contraceptive Minestrin by Cushman in a clinic operated by Ottawa-Carleton’s health department.
On June 14 of that year, while Mozersky was taking summer courses at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y, she was suddenly overcome with nausea and numbness.
In the ensuing hours, she suffered a brain-stem stroke that has left her with such a profound paralysis that she is only able to communicate by blinking her eyes.
“We are trying to ensure that the cost of Judy’s care will be provided into the future,” said lawyer Peter Hagen, who is representing Judy, her parents Ken and Anne and brother David.
The statement of claim alleges Cushman failed to advise Mozersky of the risks associated with the contraceptive and didn’t fully inform himself about her medical history and current health status.
According to Dr. Cushman’s statement of defense, Mozersky was prescribed an oral contraceptive called Ortho 777 by a physician in the U.S. about four months before her May 1990 visit to the clinic.
She had been suffering from migraine headaches and believed the frequency was associated with the taking of the pill. Dr. Cushman’s defense states he reviewed the matter with her and prescribed a pill with lower estrogen, recommending a revisit in three months.
His statement denies any wrongdoing and states that Mozersky voluntarily assumed the risk associated with taking the pill.
His claim further says she did not fully inform the clinic or the doctor about her medical history.
Dr. Cushman could not be reached for comment. However, his lawyer, Paul Millican, said patient-physician confidentiality would prevent him from making any statement to the media. The physician will testify later in the trial.
Mozersky was expected to testify April 16. She has developed a system of communicating by using eye movements to refer to different letters of the alphabet. A nurse will interpret for the court.
Her case has attracted wide public attention because of her heroic struggle to retain her health, including the publication of a book she authored, Locked In: A Young Woman’s Battle with Stroke.
She suffers from what is sometimes called “locked-in syndrome,” which means her thinking has been left intact but the parts of the brain that control movement and speech have been damaged.
The trial is expected to last another three to five weeks.
–with files from Canadian Press