GALVESTON, Texas (CN) - A prison doctor may be civilly liable after refusing to hospitalize an inmate who later lost his legs to infection, a federal judge ruled.
The 18-page decision describes the allegations in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, Donald Eubanks, as is customary at the summary-judgment stage.
It says Eubanks had been paralyzed from a car accident for 27 years when he began serving a life sentence in 2009 for aggravated sexual assault of a child. Set to turn 60 in July, Eubanks was purportedly in relatively good health upon entering Galveston County Jail.
Within a month, however, Eubanks allegedly developed painful pressure sores, known as decubitus ulcers.
Dr. Aftab Ahmad with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice then signed off on transferring Eubanks to the Jester Unit in Brazoria County, despite reading a letter from Eubanks' doctor that said the inmate should be taken to a hospital immediately.
Ahmad allegedly decided hospitalization was unnecessary although Eubanks was suffering from multiple pressures sores and diarrhea, and ordered him to keep taking his medications.
Eubanks said another TDCJ doctor, Kokila Naik, examined him a few days after he arrived at the Jester Unit. She allegedly noted the ulcers, but did not check to see if they were infected.
The inmate asked Naik how the TDCJ was prepared to treat his ulcers if they got infected, and she allegedly admitted she could not properly treat him at the Jester Unit, but she would not agree to transfer him to a hospital at that time.
Eubanks said he continued to press prison officials for a transfer to a hospital as his ulcers got worse and he began suffering from vomiting, fever and chills, along with bowel and bladder incontinence.
Getting desperate, Eubanks allegedly sent Ahmad a request for medical services.
Ahmad saw Eubanks a few days later about his incontinence but did not check to see if his ulcers were infected.
Eubanks then sent a medical services request to Naik, telling her that constant drainage required changing the bandages on his ulcers three or four times a day, and repeating his urgent need to be transferred to a hospital.
The doctors allegedly told Eubanks to stay off his bottom, but Eubanks explained that was not possible because his daily routine required him to sit in his wheelchair.
Later that month Ahmad examined Eubank's ulcers and took a culture. Eubanks' health then took a turn for the worse and he was transferred to the University of Texas at Galveston Medical Branch.
To save his life doctors amputated his legs at the hip and removed part of his colon and a testicle.
Eubanks' civil complaint over his treatment has already been amended twice. With just a deliberate-indifference claim against Naik and Ahmad, and an Americans with Disabilities Act claim against the TDCJ, left intact, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa stripped the action down further last week.
Costa discarded the claims against the TDCJ and Ahmad, finding that Ahmad was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not show deliberate indifference to Eubanks' condition.
"Rather, he appears to have continually made a medical judgment that the ulcers did not require hospitalization," Costa wrote.
The judge was not so easy on Naik, however, and refused to buy her qualified-immunity defense.
"Naik allegedly told Eubanks that she knew that she could not treat him properly at Jester but would not transfer him to another facility," the 18-page ruling states. "That decision and what happened afterwards therefore could be interpreted as deliberate indifference: Eubanks remained at Jester for another month under Naik's care, and by the end of that month, his condition had completely devolved."