WALDOBORO — A Waldoboro woman has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and a doctor at the Togus Veterans Administration Medical Center, claiming a change in medication caused the death of her father.

The change was the result of the VA Medical Center’s effort to get all its patients off opioids, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit against Dr. Joseph J. Lienert was filed March 21 in U.S. District Court in Portland by Donna Wallace, who is the personal representative of the estate of her father Douglas Wallace.

“For my client Donna, this is not a lawsuit about money. This is about the VA and holding them accountable,” her attorney, Taylor Asen of Lewiston, said Thursday.

Jim Doherty, a spokesman for the VA healthcare system in Maine, said the Togus VA could not comment on the lawsuit.

Douglas Wallace, a Waldoboro resident, died Sept. 22, 2014, at the age of 90. He had been a veteran of World War II and was onboard a ship that was sunk in the Pacific by a Kamikaze pilot who crashed his plane into the ship.

After the war, Wallace worked various jobs including at Bath Iron Works and building wooden boats.

The lawsuit states that Douglas Wallace was in good health when he went for an appointment on Sept. 2, 2014, to see Lienert at the VA medical center in Chelsea.

Wallace had been taking Vicodin for 40 years for chronic knee pain and was tolerating the medication well, according to the lawsuit.

Lienert discussed the possible risks of opioid use in the elderly and informed Wallace and his daughter, who had accompanied him to the appointment, that the VA was in the process of taking all patients off opioids regardless of their individual reaction to them, the lawsuit further states.

Lienert said he would mail a prescription to Wallace for a new medication. The doctor did not inform them what the medication would be or the risks of the new medication, according to the lawsuit.

On Sept. 8, Wallace received the new prescription — Diclofenac Sodium — and began taking it that day. Diclofenac is a non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drug that can cause ulcers, according to the National Institutes of Health.

On Sept. 19, Wallace passed out without warning and when he regained consciousness he had experienced a bowel movement with bright red blood. He was taken to the emergency department at VA Togus on the following day at which time he was diagnosed with rectal bleeding.

Wallace was transferred that day to Maine General Medical Center in Augusta where he was found to have a bleeding ulcer in his small intestine. The ulcer was cauterized that day.

On Sept. 21, the ulcer began bleeding again and attempts to stop it failed. On Sept. 22, Wallace suffered a heart attack and he died later that afternoon.

The lawsuit claims that switching the medications without considering the risks and benefits, not prescribing medication to protect his gastrointestinal system, and the doctor’s failure to inform Wallace or his daughter about warning signs from Diclofenac were negligent actions.

The lawsuit states that if they had been informed of the risks of the new medication, they would have chosen to stay on the Vicodin which is a combination of Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for funeral expenses, medical expenses, pain and suffering.


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