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Sudden Psychoses Could Point to Lyme

Breaching the standard of medical care

NEWS ARTICLE from THE WHIG, 12-20-00, By Carl Hamilton, Whig Staff Writer

``Jury awards $1.7 million to Cecil teen

ELKTON - A civil jury awarded more than $1.7 million Monday to a Port Deposit teen who suffers long-term health problems because local physicians failed to diagnose his Lyme disease.

This is believed to be the highest award of damages in Cecil County history, according to veteran lawyers and court officials.

The six-member jury deliberated nearly eight hours before concluding that Chesapeake Family Practice Group on High Street in Elkton breached the standard of medical care when treating Aaron Murray.

That breach, according to the jury, directly resulted in Murray's physical problems, including his IQ reportedly dropping as much as 29 points.

Murray was 14 when he became a patient at Chesapeake Family Practice Group in 1995. He is now 18 ...

The jury originally awarded a total of $3.2 million, but Circuit Court Judge O. Robert Lidums reduced damages on one count because it exceeded a state cap.

Under a count addressing the plaintiffs' pain and suffering, the jury wanted to award Murray and his mother, Gail Johnson, 41, $2 million. The cap is $515,000, however.

It awarded more than $1.2 million to cover Murray's loss of future earnings. And the jury awarded $64,000 to cover past medical expenses.

The defendants' attorney, Robert C. Morgan of Baltimore County, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Ira C. Cooke of Towson, Md., who represented the plaintiffs, believes this verdict will caution other doctors.

"I think this is an important case because it puts the medical profession on notice that anything less than top-flight medical care will not be tolerated in Cecil County,'' Cooke said.

Cooke handled this case with Elkton-based lawyer Douglas R. Cain ...

Chesapeake Family Practice Group failed to offer its physicians training or directives relating to the prevention and detection of Lyme disease, the plaintiffs maintained. Cecil County is a high-risk area for the disease.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson and her son sought medical attention at Chesapeake Family Practice Group on April 1, 1996 because the teen exhibited numerous symptoms indicative of Lyme disease.

The teen had "every single'' symptom, including fatigue, a rash, swollen glands, nausea, flu-like symptoms and aches and pains in the joints, Cooke charged.

But Murray's condition went undiagnosed despite several more visits to the medical practice, Cooke said. The defendants didn't even conduct the simplest of diagnostic tests -- a blood test, he added.

Staff doctors diagnosed Lyme disease after Murray collapsed with seizures in a hospital emergency room in August 1996. Hospital doctors relied on blood test results ...

The plaintiffs contended that there was an unnecessary delay in treatment and that it caused Murray's IQ to drop significantly. His IQ was measured at 115 in 1995, they reported.

Two recent tests registered Murray's IQ at 86, and a third placed it at 103, according to testimony. His lawyers claimed Murray was unable to complete the ninth grade as a result ...

During his closing statement last Friday, Cain reminded jurors that Johnson made 72 unanswered phone calls to Chesapeake Family Practice Group in several months. She was concerned about her son's worsening condition, Cain said ... ''

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NEWS ARTICLE from HEALTH SCOUT, 11-18-00, By Pat Curry, HealthScout Reporter

``Sudden Psychoses Could Point to Lyme

FRIDAY -- The young man went to see a psychiatrist after he'd picked up a friend and thrown him down a flight of stairs. At work, he'd slammed a co-worker against a wall.

He'd never had these kinds of aggressive outbursts before and was genuinely frightened by his behavior. But the psychiatrist, Dr. Brian Fallon, an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, noticed something else. Six months earlier, the man had complained of having trouble putting his words together.

Diagnosis: Lyme disease.

"He had a classic case of Lyme disease," says Fallon, who also is director of the Lyme Disease Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium and transmitted by tiny deer ticks, Lyme disease has been reported in nearly every state and throughout Europe and Asia. It begins as a skin rash, and early symptoms often are flu-like, including fatigue, headache, fever, muscle stiffness and joint pain.

But if not treated early, Lyme disease can attack the central nervous system and produce a variety of psychiatric disorders, "from depression to full-blown psychosis," Fallon says.

"Panic attacks or new onset irritability, insomnia, concentration problems and depression, or what may look like depression, may actually be undiagnosed Lyme disease," he says.

That's why it's called "The Great Imitator," Fallon says: Lyme disease symptoms are similar to those of a host of other medical conditions. And that's also why a psychiatrist can be important in diagnosing the disease, he says. Fallon discussed his work at an American Psychiatric Association meeting a few weeks ago.

"Psychiatrists can be very helpful," he says. "We know what panic attacks and depression look like. If a patient also has numbness and tingling, migrating joint pains and a hard time finding the words to say what they want to say -- instead of 'convertible,' they might say 'a car without a roof on it' -- that's classic in Lyme disease, but you don't typically see it with depression."

Plus, the standard blood tests for Lyme disease have a significant rate of both false positives and negatives, he says, creating a significant number of misdiagnoses ... ''

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