After a weeklong trial in Teton County District Court a jury sided with Dr. Alton “Buck” Parker in the wrongful death case of Roger Holcomb.
Holcomb, 59, a pharmacist at Smith’s Pharmacy in Jackson, died at his Idaho home on Feb. 27, 2013. He bled to death, according to records. His death was being disputed in court because Holcomb had been released from St. John’s Medical Center the day before he died.
It was a “dangerous” discharge, according to Dr. Carl Adams, an expert medical witness.
Holcomb’s family sued Parker for medical malpractice, claiming the trauma surgeon ignored obvious signs of Holcomb’s failing health and released him anyway.
“The only thing the nurse said to me was that he was ready to be discharged and ready to go home,” testified Nicole Gamber Jackson, a friend and former co-worker of Holcomb’s. “His discharge paperwork said self-care.”
Three hours of deliberation
But after about three hours of deliberations on Nov. 21 a Teton County jury found Dr. Parker not negligent in Holcomb’s death.
On Feb. 21, 2013, six days before his death, Holcomb collapsed while shoveling snow off the front steps of his home in Irwin, Idaho.
“He crashed backwards into the steps, impacting his back and left side,” court documents read.
Holcomb stayed home and rested after the fall, according to records. He reported for work at Smith’s Pharmacy two days later at 8 a.m.
“About an hour and a half later he passed out and was rushed to the emergency room at St. John’s, where he was initially evaluated by Dr. Vaughn Morgan, an emergency room physician,” reports read.
Holcomb was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit under Parker’s care, with the assistance of Dr. Charles Knight.
Holcomb had previously been diagnosed with thrombophilia, which can increase a person’s chances of developing abnormal blood clots.
While in intensive care, Holcomb was prescribed Lovenox, Coumadin and aspirin, court records say.
“He had some back pain and some abdominal pain,” Parker wrote in Holcomb’s discharge summary before sending him home with his prescribed medications.
“Defendant Parker and Dr. Knight were negligent, breaching the standard of care,” allegations read.
The lawsuit claims Holcomb “was anti-coagulated with Lovenox and Coumadin, in the presence of aspirin, to an extent that caused him to re-bleed into his left retroperitoneal space and die.”
Attorneys representing Holcomb’s family argued in court that Holcomb should not have been discharged or prescribed those medications.
“It was an unwise and risky discharge,” Adams testified.
From the witness stand Parker denied being negligent. His attorney, Andrew Sears, argued that Holcomb wanted to go home from the hospital and Parker simply listened to his patient and honored his wishes.
“Patient autonomy is a two-way street,” Sears said in his closing arguments. “Can you hold Dr. Parker responsible for a series of unfortunate events?”
“It was very hard,” juror Jo Lynn told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Lynn was one of the last jurors to come to a decision, she said. The verdict ended up being unanimous, she said.
“We’re happy with the verdict,” Parker’s attorney Andrew Sears said.
“We are disappointed,” Richard Honaker told the News&Guide. “I’m not sure what the rationale was, but I believe in the jury system so I have to accept the verdict.”
Jurors almost always side with the doctor in malpractice cases, he said.
Most doctors win
“In Wyoming doctors win almost all these cases,” Honaker said. “It’s an incredible percentage.”
On Parker’s website he describes himself as a board-certified surgeon who also specializes in providing medical advice on the internet. His public persona was used against him during the trial.
“You may have seen me on the ‘Bear Grylls’ & NBC survivor reality show ‘The Island,’” Parker wrote on his website. “I was a cast member as well as the primary medical expert on the show.”
Medical experts called him a virtual surgeon. Plaintiffs also criticized him for getting his board certification in the Cayman Islands, saying that’s where medical students with low grades go.
“I don’t think he has the maximum training in order to be a trauma surgeon,” Adams testified.
But in the end, the jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence between the time Holcomb was discharged and his death to prove Parker’s actions caused the fatal bleeding.
Parker no longer works in Jackson and has relocated to Salt Lake City, according to his website. He would not comment for this article.