Federal jury awards Jefferson County man $10 million over jailhouse stroke

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Ken McGill

Ken McGill

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DENVER —  A federal jury in Denver has awarded a Morrison man $10 million after it took more than 16 hours to transport him to the emergency room when he suffered a stroke in the Jefferson County Detention Facility.

Ken McGill, 46, was serving time for misdemeanor DUI when he suffered a stroke September 17, 2012.  McGill and other inmates testified that despite obvious symptoms of dizziness, paralysis, a droopy right side and slurred speech, medical staff at the jail downplayed his symptoms and forced him to spend the night on a concrete floor instead of rushing him to a hospital.

“I felt as it was going on that I was being punished for having a stroke,” said McGill, who added, “I felt like I was going to die, I didn`t think I was coming out of there.”

The most damning piece of evidence may have been a recorded jail house phone call.  After being misdiagnosed by a jail nurse, McGill called his wife Jen McCracken at 8:36 p.m. begging for help and in the recording his voice is noticeably slurred.

Here is a transcript of the 8:36 p.m. phone call:

Ken McGill: Hello, I think I had a stroke today.

Jen McCracken: Then why aren’t you in the hospital?

Ken McGill: Because they had me downstairs all day today.

Jen McCracken: On what?

Ken McGill: They had me downstairs all day today in the medical thing.

Ken’s wife would get increasingly frustrated throughout the 15-minute call, not understanding that Ken had already tried to get a nurse to send him to the hospital.

More phone call transcript:

Jen McCracken: Why don’t you go to the f***ing Captain and say ‘I’m not feeling good, something is seriously wrong. I need to go to the f***ing hospital.’

Ken McGill: I’m trying … and I can`t feel the whole right side of my body now.  And I can`t even talk. I`m scared to death.”

Eventually another inmate named Vance Goetz would get on the phone with McGill’s wife.

“Something is definitely wrong,” Goetz said.  “He’s having a hard time walking. I talked to Gilbert (another inmate). He said it could’ve been a mini-stroke.”

Testimony revealed that what was obvious to Ken McGill and fellow inmates still wasn’t enough to convince a nurse to call an ambulance.

It wasn’t until the following morning after McGill slept on a concrete floor that a doctor at the jail recognized that McGill was having a stroke.

Still, it would be 1 p.m. the next day before McGill was seem in the emergency room at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge.

That’s well past the four-and-a-half hour window stroke patients have to receive clot busting medicine.

“Without those your brain is just dying while you`re waiting and that`s what happened to Mr. McGill all night while he was waiting for someone to take him seriously,” said Anna Holland Edwards, McGill’s attorney.

Even after McGill was taken to the hospital, he wasn’t allowed to call his wife and no one from the Jefferson County Detention Facility would tell McCracken where her husband was taken.

It was three days later when McGill was allowed to order food from a hospital phone as part of his speech therapy, that he called his wife to tell her where he was.

Soon after his wife arrived to visit her husband, she was removed from McGill’s patient room.

The next day McGill was transferred to Boulder Community Hospital with no information being given to his wife.  It was at there that McGill learned from a nurse that someone had put a Do Not Resuscitate order on his medical chart.

The trial never revealed how a DNR was placed in McGill’s medical file.

After Jen McCracken informed Jefferson County District Court what was happening, a judge ordered McGill released from criminal custody.

McGill testified he can never hold a full-time job again and said he suffered permanent disability because deputies and medical staff refused to take his symptoms seriously.

“In essence I had a stroke in the arms of a nurse and probably could’ve been treated within the first half-an-hour, hour, if they would’ve done the right thing,” said McGill.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Tuesday:

“The Sheriff’s Office is disappointed with the verdict. Mr. McGill presented with a rare stroke that was difficult to assess and the correct diagnosis was not initially made, which was deeply unfortunate.  The Sheriff’s Office continually strives to provide the best care for its inmates and takes its responsibilities very seriously. The Jefferson County Jail is nationally accredited by the ACA and NCCHC; both these organizations review medical staffing, policies and procedures to ensure the Jail is following best practices and providing quality care to inmates. The Jail has always passed those accreditations with high marks. We believe the facts in this case represent an anomalous situation and are not indicative of larger issues with inmate medical care at the Jail. Earlier in this litigation, the Court found that Mr. McGill did not have a direct liability claim against the Sheriff or any deputies; the claim that the jury decided related solely to the medical care provided by Correctional Healthcare Management employees at the Jail.”

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