Fryer, Shuster & Lester's Keith Fryer told the jury during opening statements in James Keith v. Vascular Institute of Georgia, "Jim wants his tongue back. And he wants to be able to swallow and eat like a normal human being."
Mr. Keith was undergoing a carotid endarterectomy to correct narrowing of the carotid artery due to the buildup of plaque. According to Mr. Fryer, Dr. Mark Rheudasil inadvertently clipped and then transected Mr. Keith's hypoglossal nerve, thinking it was an artery. Upon realizing his error, said Mr. Fryer, Dr. Rheudasil sutured the nerve together improperly, and should have instead repaired the nerve by cutting out the crushed portions before suturing.
Mr. Fryer told the jury that the standard of care requires a surgeon conducting a carotid endarterectomy procedure to identify and protect the hypoglossal nerve. "A surgeon who cuts what he does not know and needlessly harms his patient is responsible under the law," Mr. Fryer said.
For the defense, attorney Frederick Gleaton, of Owen, Gleaton, Egan, Jones & Sweeney, told the jury that when Mr. Keith first saw Dr. Rheudasil, Mr. Keith's health was "a mess." He had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema, high blood pressure, an alcohol problem, a cigarette problem, a depression problem, every bad type of arteriosclerosis, and he had suffered a stroke in 2002, which left him partially paralyzed on his right side. "His life was anything but absolutely normal," said Mr. Gleaton. "It was, in fact, severely impaired by the stroke."
However, Mr. Gleaton continued, severing the artery did not fall below the standard of care in this case, because when Dr. Rheudasil opened Mr. Keith's neck, he saw something he had never seen in thousands of similar operations. "Never in his career had he seen such aberrant anatomy as when he opened Mr. Keith's neck."