Former truck driver left blind after eye surgery to receive $900,000 settlement from Cook County“The doctor only said ‘what you’re feeling is normal — natural. Give it an hour or two and it’s going to go back to normal,” Vargas said through a Spanish interpreter. But it never did.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
by Rachel Hinton
Jose Vargas said he knew immediately that something was wrong when he received a shot to his eye — and he told the doctor as much.
Living with diabetes, Vargas received the shot in September 2015 to help him keep the vision in his right eye. He’d been given others in the past, but this time around — seen by a new doctor who was doing the procedure in a new way — things went awry.
“The doctor only said ‘what you’re feeling is normal — natural. Give it an hour or two and it’s going to go back to normal,” Vargas said through a Spanish interpreter.
But it never did.
Already blind in his left eye from glaucoma, Vargas lost his sight in his right eye due to the care he received at the Ophthalmological Clinic at Stroger Hospital, he and his attorney allege.
Jose Vargas during an interview at his lawyerÕs office on Tuesday. Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times
A doctor’s alleged mistakes cost Vargas his sight, and now Cook County’s Finance Committee is poised to approve a $900,000 settlement Wednesday in the medical malpractice case.
“The day that I received the injection, the doctor said ‘I’ll be back, I’m going to go get the injection,’ and I found that odd, and I questioned the doctor, ‘you’re going to do this here?’ And the doctor said, ‘yes, we’re going to do it here, we don’t want to waste any time,” Vargas said through the interpreter. “Seems like … they only had one waiting room and still had two or three patients, and the doctor was too confident but what he did, he did it wrong. I instantly told the doctor ‘there’s something wrong here.’”
Vargas is a father of nine, a former truck driver and scrap collector. The now 69-year-old went into the clinic in September 2015 for the second in a series of shots he received to treat macular edema brought on by diabetes.
Jose Vargas during an interview at his lawyer’s office. Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times
The problems surrounding that procedure started from the beginning.
According to court filings, Dr. Amir Reza Hajrasouliha, a vitreoretinal fellow who hadn’t practiced ophthalmology before the fellowship, didn’t explain the risks of the intravitreal injections or alternative means of treating the eye disease. There was no Spanish interpreter in the room to make sure Vargas understood what was going on.
There’s also no record of Hajrasouliha obtaining consent for the procedure — or that the procedure happened since there were no records or reports documenting the procedure, Vargas’ attorney, Timothy Winfield of Goldstein, Bender and Romanoff, alleges in court filings.
Hajrasouliha also didn’t properly sterilize the eye, didn’t use a speculum to keep the eye open, choosing instead to use his fingers to open the lids of Vargas’ eye, and didn’t use draping to reduce the risk of infection, court filings allege.
Bacteria was also found in Vargas’ right eye. The specific bacteria is routinely found in a person’s mouth, meaning that it could have only come from the doctor or Vargas, since they were the only ones in the room, according to the court filings.
Winfield said it could have come from a cough.
Jose Vargas leaves his lawyer’s office with his friend on Tuesday
Jose Vargas leaves his lawyer’s office with his friend on Tuesday Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times
After the surgery, Vargas went back to Bolingbrook, but returned to the hospital’s emergency room the next day once the pain in his eye became too much.
Doctors focused on trying to save his eye. Vargas underwent surgery days after the injection, but it was unsuccessful.
Winfield said he’d hoped for a larger settlement.
“He’s blind, he has no income, no money and no means of support, and he wanted to settle the case,” Winfield said. “This was the highest offer. I think if we went to trial we could have gotten more, but we left it up to him and he decided to settle it.”
Jose Vargas’ lawyer, Timothy J. Winfield, listens to his client
Jose Vargas’ lawyer, Timothy J. Winfield, listens to his client during an interview in his office on Tuesday Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times
For Vargas, who has lived with his daughter and son-in-law for the four years since the procedure, the money is a way to help him and his family.
“When something like this happens to you, doors are closed on you, my family, my kids … tried to place me elsewhere. Why? Because nobody wanted the burden of having someone like me who is blind, and to me this is very sad,” Vargas said.
“I need the money of course, money is important,” Vargas said. “The money is for my children and each one of them is going to receive it. I don’t know how many years I have to live … the only thing I know is it may be a few years … it’s a detail only God knows. The love I have for my children even though they were not supportive, I still love my children the way I have always, even before all of this happened.”