WellStar, Georgia’s largest health system, is being sued by a Paulding County resident who claims he received subpar care and was misdiagnosed by staff at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, causing serious permanent injuries.

Damien Robinson, who sought emergency treatment at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in March 2018, filed a medical malpractice suit against the health system, the hospital and two of its staff in the DeKalb County State Court on Nov. 6, records show.

Robinson wants at least $10,000 in damages from WellStar as well as all his legal costs paid, per the lawsuit.

WellStar disputes Robinson’s allegations, the organization told the MDJ Thursday.

Robinson’s lawsuit claims neurologist James Armstrong, who now lives in Hickory, North Carolina, and physician assistant Elizabeth Bleakley of Decatur were working for WellStar at Kennestone Hospital when Robinson sought treatment there.

Robinson claims he went to the emergency department at Kennestone in the middle of the night on March 6, 2018, reporting chest pain, numb feet and overall weakness as well as sensory loss, numbness from the chest down and urinary retention. He was 18 years old at the time, according to his lawsuit.

Emergency department doctor Richard Kleiman saw Robinson at 1:45 a.m. and ordered an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of Robinson’s full spine, but this was an “MRI without contrast,” meaning dye was not injected into Robinson so that the scan images could be clearer, his lawsuit states.

“Contrast was necessary in order to investigate potential causes of Robinson’s weakness and numbness,” the lawsuit states.

Robinson said his case was discussed by the emergency doctor and the on-call neurology doctor at Kennestone, who relayed information to Armstrong, an associate neurologist at the time, for a consultation.

Bleakley assisted Armstrong in the consultation, but neither ordered a full spine MRI with contrast, instead ordering a lumbar MRI, Robinson claims.

He said Armstrong and Bleakley diagnosed him, incorrectly, with conversion disorder, a mental condition in which a person has blindness, paralysis, or other nervous system symptoms that cannot be explained physically.

Robinson claims this was a rare and unlikely explanation for his symptoms.

His lawsuit states he was later diagnosed, correctly, with transverse myelitis, or spinal cord inflammation. Robinson claims this was a more probable cause of his symptoms and should have been investigated by Kennestone’s medical team.

He states an MRI scan with contrast was the standard of care he should have received to correctly diagnose his transverse myelitis and properly treat it with high dose steroids.

“For a patient with Robinson’s history, characteristics and symptoms, transverse myelitis was one of the most likely of only a few potential causes of rapidly progressing neurological losses in an 18-year-old previously healthy man,” his lawsuit states.

Instead, Armstrong and Bleakley failed to consider spinal inflammation in favor of misdiagnosing conversion disorder, Robinson claims.

“Premature diagnosis of conversion disorder is dangerous, because it can lead medical providers to abandon investigation and treatment of physical causes,” Robinson’s suit states. “If an incorrect conversion disorder diagnosis is made, then a physical problem may remain untreated, leading to unnecessary harm to the patient. That’s what happened here.”

Robinson claims his spinal inflammation went untreated for days, causing harm that should have been avoided by proper medical analysis.

“Because of Dr. Armstrong’s and PA Bleakley’s failure to treat Damien Robinson in accordance with the standard of care, Robinson suffers serious, permanent physical injury,” the suit states.

To make up for the “professional negligence” of the defendants, Robinson seeks “physical, emotional and economic damages,” as well as all other damages applicable under Georgia law, and full legal costs and attorney fees.

He also demands a trial by jury in the matter, documents show.

Robinson is being represented by Bell Law Firm in Atlanta. Attorney Lloyd Bell said he filed the lawsuit in DeKalb County, where Bleakley lives, hoping to get a "more favorable" outcome.

The lawsuit includes an affidavit from New York doctor Alexander Merkler, in accordance with Georgia law.

Merkler said Armstrong and Bleakley violated their applicable standards of care in treating Robinson, which cost the plaintiff “his chance of normal or partial recovery.”

Sophia Marshall, WellStar’s vice president of communications, emailed the MDJ a statement on behalf of the health system Thursday, confirming WellStar disputes Robinson’s claims.

“WellStar is committed to delivering high quality, personalized and compassionate healthcare to patients throughout the communities we serve,” Marshall stated. “WellStar disputes the allegations in this complaint. However, to protect patient privacy rights and because this story involves a pending lawsuit, we are not able to further comment on the details of this case.”

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