DOC Prisoner Faces Death After Unnecessary Surgery
Paul Perez is hoping he lives long enough to have his day in court. Over 27 months ago Perez, a prisoner in the Colorado Dept. of Corrections, was taken to Arapahoe County Jail to answer a petty theft charge on which he eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor. While he was at the jail waiting to go to court Perez, 40, began to experience abdominal pain and asked to be seen by the nurse.
After examining him, and taking x-rays of his intestines, medical personnel at the jail became convinced that Perez was suffering from acute appendicitis and needed to be transferred to the hospital immediately. So, at 2 am that night (this was in October 2007), the by now worried prisoner was shackled and transported by sheriff’s deputies to Denver General Hospital – the public hospital serving the city’s poor of all descriptions, including prisoners.
There he was placed, naked, on the examination table and a camera inserted in his rectum. The results were inconclusive. The on-call surgeon, who by this time was already at the hospital and prepared for surgery, decided to perform exploratory surgery on Perez.
That, however, is not what Perez claims he was told. Instead, Perez claims he was told that if he didn’t consent to surgery immediately he would be dead “within 30 minutes” from a ruptured appendix. Now terrified, Perez claims he was not permitted to call his family and signed the consent forms only under extreme duress.
It gets worse.
After performing exploratory surgery and failing to find anything wrong with the appendix, or any other intestinal problems, the surgeon decided to remove it anyway. Worse, to prevent infection doctors performed a colostomy on the until now perfectly healthy prisoner. When Perez regained consciousness, and doctors told him what had happened during the surgery, he claims he was furious. At no time had Perez knowingly consented to any unnecessary surgery to mutilate him for no good reason.
Unable to contact his family, it was 3 days before Perez was able, through the hospital’s advocate, to contact celebrated civil rights attorney David Lane. After speaking briefly with Perez by phone, Lane, who became famous for representing fired University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill, was able to contact Perez’s family and notify them of what had happened to their son. After a few more phone calls to confirm Perez’s story, the attorney came to the hospital in person and agreed to represent him.
Within 2 hours of his meeting with Lane, Perez claims he was transferred back to the jail, taken for court the next day and allowed to plead to a misdemeanor (he was originally charged with felony theft), and transferred to the Department of Corrections facility immediately. Still wheelchair bound and unable to walk, it was over a month before Perez was again able to contact his lawyer.
It gets worse.
Doctors had assured Perez that the colostomy they had performed on him would be reversed in 3 months. It has now been 27 months since they made that promise and Perez is worried they may no longer be able to reverse the procedure.
At issue is money. Perez’s medical bills already total over $350,000 without the surgery he needs to reconstruct his bowels, and none of the parties named in his lawsuit want to pay. If he were not in prison, Perez would qualify for Medicaid, and would have had the use of his bowels back two years ago. But, he is in prison, and likely to remain here for at least 2 more years, unless Governor Bill Ritter commutes his sentence – something no one expects him to do. What Perez does expect the state to do is to reconstruct his bowels, which are now backing up on him – and doctors here admit might actually kill him if they fail.
Should Perez die of neglect, however, it is likely to be far less costly to the Department of Corrections than if he lives to secure a settlement. In personal injury cases, dead people are worth less, especially dead convicts.