Lahey Surgeon Kills Healthy Liver Donor
Or, as The Boston Globe put it on June 12, 2010: “At the Lahey, a Stunning, Rare Tragedy… Donor Dies in Liver Transplant Attempt… A man who agreed to donate part of his liver to help a sick relative died while undergoing the transplant procedure at Lahey Clinic in Burlington two weeks ago, the hospital said…”
Two weeks ago.
Lahey, like most top-drawer medical research centers, has an institutional knack for damage control, honed by years of experience. And the tenor of the headline shows that the hometown rag has an institutional understanding of who butters the bread in Boston. The story of the death of Paul Douglas Hawks, 56, of Tampa, Florida, at the Lahey Clinic was buried in the Burlington Hyperlocal section of Boston.com, along with news of neighborhood real estate deals and progress in repaving a section of Route 128.
Paul Hawks, who walked into the lobby of the Lahey Clinic under his own steam on a mission of mercy, was wheeled out the back door under a sheet marked Property of Tufts Medical School. He is buried in Hillsboro Memorial Gardens in Tampa, Florida. The notes on his online guest book from Lorraine Hawks, his wife of 35 years, are heart breaking:
“Our first Valentine day apart. I will miss the flowers, cards and chocolates you would always have for me. You never, ever forgot. I miss you.”
“My darling husband a year gone already i know your happy up there I love and miss you every day.”
“Yesterday would have been our 36th wedding anniversary. I feel so lost with out you, It is so hard being without you… I will always love and miss you.”
Lorraine will tell you, though, that “there is no heart more broken than the hearts of Paul and Charlotte, the parents.”
Falling down an elevator shaft or being eaten by sharks is a stunning, rare tragedy. What happened to Paul D. Hawks was entirely preventable—even predictable—given the recklessness involved; a criminal combination of arrogance and negligence, de facto if not de jure. And, while medical tragedies are certainly stunning when it happens to you, they are not at all rare. People are needlessly killed and injured by American medicine every day.
You just don’t hear very much about it.
How direct-to- consumer advertising, corporate malfeasance, and conflicts of interest at the FDA have given rise to a false sense of security for women who use some forms of hormonal birth control.
“By the time you receive this note I will have joined Erika,” a letter obtained by the Durango Herald reads. “I consider it an honor to give my life to help save the lives of others.”
There’s a video, made last summer, in which 56 year old Karen Langhart approaches a podium in a conference room in San Antonio, Texas. She takes the microphone and, with a heavy sigh, faces the audience. She drops her hands to the edges of the lectern, takes a deep breath and lets it go. It is clear that what she is doing is an effort, and that she has done it many times before. She is weary – very weary – and you can tell that she is willing herself to go on. She raises her eyes from her notes and looks out at the room, sweeps her blonde hair behind her ears and puts her reading glasses on.
She sighs heavily again and sets a grim smile.
She thanks her hosts and says that she and her husband cannot convey how much they appreciate that the film which is about to premier is dedicated “to my beloved daughter Erika and all of the other women who have lost their lives to these dangerous drugs.” She is all but crying; not actually crying because she is all cried out and has been for a long, long time.
The independent film, Natural Love Stories, is about alternatives to hormonal contraception. It was dedicated to Erika Langhart because she died at the age of 24 from massive pulmonary embolisms. In November 2011, a blood clot traveled from Erika’s leg to her lungs and cut off the blood supply, causing a series of cardiac arrests that left her brain-dead by the time her parents made it to the hospital. The doctor told them that she died because of a contraceptive she was using called NuvaRing.
Karen Langhart has told the story so many times to so many audiences since then that you’d think the rawness of it would subside. But it never did, it got worse with each telling and you can see from the video that this woman is coming apart, disintegrating before your eyes.
Without grasping the irony, Karen tells her audience that her daughter’s spirit was best captured in the Durango High School Yearbook dedication, which urged graduates to “Care more than others think wise, risk more than others think safe…”
Risk and safety, our perceptions of it as consumers, are at the core of this American family tragedy.