'Dead people don't move': Coroner says Buffalo ER physician pronounced living man dead

After an emergency room physician at Tonawanda, N.Y.-based DeGraff Memorial Hospital ruled a man dead in October 2014, a Niagara County coroner said he saw the man breathing in the ER, according to The Buffalo News.

Michael Cleveland, 46, had suffered a heart attack before he was transported to DeGraff Hospital. Gregory Perry, MD, the emergency room physician that night, declared Mr. Cleveland dead.

Joseph Mantione, the coroner, said he saw Mr. Cleveland breathing with his eyes open despite having an oxygen tube in his mouth, according to Mr. Mantione's deposition transcript obtained by The Buffalo News. After he was confirmed to be alive, Mr. Cleveland was transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center, where he died the next morning. Mr. Cleveland's widow filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Perry and Buffalo, N.Y.-based Kaleida Health, which owns DeGraff Hospital and Buffalo General Medical Center.

State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso will hear arguments Thursday from attorneys who represent Kaleida Health and Dr. Perry to throw out Ms. Cleveland's malpractice lawsuit. A trial is scheduled for April.

Mr. Cleveland's life could have been saved if the hospital staff has provided better or more prompt treatment, the suit alleges. Instead, Dr. Perry did not act on several requests to check on Mr. Cleveland again for nearly three hours, according to the suit. Mr. Mantione made several of these requests.

"Dead people don't move," Mr. Mantione told ER staff, according to his deposition. "He needs to go in there and check his pulse."  

William M. Morris, MD, a cardiologist who treated Mr. Cleveland at Buffalo General, was named as a defendant in the original malpractice lawsuit, but was removed from the case in December.

Dr. Morris said Mr. Cleveland was in shock and had a fully blocked coronary artery, a collapsed lung and fractured ribs, according to Dr. Morris' affidavit. The latter two injuries seemingly resulted from first responders' attempts at CPR.

"There was nothing I could do with regard to the fact that before the patient had ever come under my care, he had suffered a major heart attack, had undergone a prolonged period of resuscitation and had suffered a prolonged period of cardiogenic shock," Dr. Morris wrote.

"The [physician] had done everything appropriately and wasn't able to salvage the patient," said Dr. Morris' attorney.

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