John W. Tillery


On October 9, 2009 I lost my father to sepsis due to complications of a colonoscopy. My father was 84 years old when his family physician found blood in one out of three fecal samples. Even though my father was not experiencing any symptoms, such as pain in the abdomen, difficulty with bowel movements, or obvious blood in his stool or urine, his physician referred him to a gastrointestinal specialist. Dad followed those instructions, seeking out the specialist, and the specialist in turn recommended a colonoscopy and endoscopy.

My father and I were best friends and discussed everything, so it was only natural that he would ask my opinion as to whether or not he should have a colonoscopy. Although I had previously had two colonoscopies performed, I couldn’t understand why they would want to put a man who was 84 years old, with no symptoms other than the one fecal sample, through a procedure, no matter how minor. My father was in excellent shape otherwise, as he was still golfing one-to-two times a week and we had just come back from a trip to Aruba, where he got around better than I did! I wanted this decision to be dad’s, so I left the decision up to him. My first regret.

Dad decided to have the colonoscopy but only because cancer terrified him, as it did everyone. I drove him to the outpatient medical center that morning and I could tell he was nervous, as he kept whistling through his teeth, something he always did when he was nervous. I told him it wasn’t too late to change his mind, but he made the decision to go with the surgery. Funny how the tables turn when the child eventually becomes the parent, comforting them in their time of need. He filled out the necessary paperwork, and I remained in the waiting area through the whole procedure.

After the colonoscopy, I was told I could come back while he was in recovery. I immediately knew that something was not right just by looking at my father. His color was off, and he seemed out of it, even though the anesthesia should have worn off. I asked him if he was ok and he said he had cramping. The problem was that he had not passed gas, and didn’t even feel the need to. Trust me, when I say that after both of my colonoscopies, there wasn’t a prayer in the world that would have kept me from passing gas. I told both the nurse and the physician who had performed the procedure(s) that something was not right. The physician then told me that he had performed what was called argon plasma coagulation, without permission, due to blood in six locations within the colon and stomach areas, and that cramping should be expected. When I pushed further about the lack of passing gas, both the nurse and the physician both stated that sometimes it could be hours before an individual passed gas after a colonoscopy and there was no need for concern. I now know that is not true. Even after dad sat up, got dressed, and the nurse went over the release paperwork, he did not look well. After they put him in the car with me, I asked once again if he had passed gas, and he said no. I wanted to go back in, but he just wanted to go home and get comfortable. My second regret.

Two hours later, I was calling 911 due to the level of pain that my father was in. After all my years of growing up around him, I had never seen my father in pain…and in pain he was. The rest was a blur. The ER physician came in after tests had been performed and stated that dad was suffering from sepsis due to complications of the surgery earlier that day. Dad was rushed into emergency surgery, and although he made it through, something they did not expect him to do, he only lasted until the next evening. He died at 11:49 p.m. I hope he knows just how much I loved him. The guilt I was feeling was overwhelming for a long time.

I know that I am preaching to the choir when I say that there is nothing more excruciating than to lose a loved one in such a senseless manner. The questions were flying at me faster than I could think…does he want a funeral? Do you want an autopsy? What is your preference for a funeral home? And the questions kept coming, even as I lay in the hospital bed next to my father’s lifeless body, willing life back into him.

Since then, I, on behalf of my siblings, filed a lawsuit, which we lost. How sad when a jury looks at the age of the victim rather than the facts when a life has been lost senselessly. The facts far outweighed the outcome. But, that is what happened. I have since filed a complaint with the Ohio State Medical Board, almost a year ago, and it is my hope that the Medical Board holds this physician’s cold feet to a very hot fire, so that he can never do this to another family again. Yes, I am mature enough and wise enough to know that this man has probably also saved countless lives, but those lives do not negate the fact that he needlessly took my father’s life.

So, we, who have lost loved ones to sepsis, must band together and fight so that others may live. I am so blessed to have found this alliance, and will do everything I can to help the Sepsis Alliance spread the word, and to raise both monies and awareness to this issue.

God Bless all of you who have had to endure such tragedy at the hands of those who have taken an oath to only “do good.” My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Source: by Cynthia Brown (John's daughter)