Infections, from Hepatitis to HIV, stemming from botched and dirty colonoscopies at VA hospitals spark Medical Malpractice lawsuits

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Feb. 26, 2011

John Renegar and his wife enjoyed an affectionate marriage for more than 30 years. Since 2009, they've hesitated even to kiss.

That's when the 62-year-old Smyrna resident and Vietnam War veteran - along with thousands of other patients of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Murfreesboro, Miami and Augusta, Ga. - learned they might have been exposed to potentially fatal infections during colonoscopies performed between 2003 and 2008. Mistakes with rigging or cleaning endoscopic equipment allowed waste and bodily fluids from patients to transfer to subsequent ones receiving the procedure, The Tennessean reported.

In March 2009, Renegar tested positive for hepatitis.

"Every emotion you could have went through me," Renegar told the paper. "It's hard to go home and tell your family something like that."

The hospitals' mistakes led to congressional hearings and new spending on patient safety, but the VA has largely denied claims for compensation from the veterans.

Now, Renegar is one of four patients of the Murfreesboro hospital to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee this month. They are seeking millions in lawsuits against the government alleging medical malpractice, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. Similar steps are under way in Florida and Georgia.

In June 2009, the VA reported that at Murfreesboro 27 patients had tested positive for hepatitis and one for HIV. At Miami, 11 had tested positive for hepatitis and three for HIV. At Augusta, nine had tested positive for hepatitis and two for HIV, The Tennessean reported.

Renegar $1.7 million lawsuit alleges that he was hospitalized with exacerbated symptoms of depression after learning of his infection, that he unknowingly exposed his family to his hepatitis for six years before being notified by the VA of its mistakes and that he suffers severe and unrelenting emotional injury.

In a $3 million lawsuit, Thomas Anthony Mayo says he contracted hepatitis from one of the VA's botched colonoscopies that has led to chronic liver disease. Mayo says the situation has emotionally devastated him and that his marriage has suffered greatly because he and his wife can no longer experience affection and intimacy. Thomas Etzle makes similar claims in a $3.5 million lawsuit, the paper reported.

Ben Richard Wilkinson has not tested positive for hepatitis or HIV, but in his $750,000 lawsuit, said the anxiety that has accompanied his potential exposure to the diseases has intensified the post traumatic stress disorder he has as a result of serving in Vietnam.

The lawsuits state that the veterans completely distrust the medical care provided by the VA, and Sheppard said he worries the thousands of affected veterans also will shy away from ever getting another colonoscopy, according to The Tennessean report.

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