Malpractice suit settled for $8 million
By Charles B. Pelkie
HERALD-NEWS STAFF WRITER
CHICAGO – A Joliet legal firm recently reached an $8 million settlement in a medical malpractice case involving a former Glendale Heights firefighter who was mistakenly diagnosed with asthma during a routine work physical seven years ago.
Scott Sircher, the 45-year-old former fire department lieutenant, actually suffered from a genetic disorder known as Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, which results in lung failure and can cause liver disease.
The disease currently has no cure. But Joliet attorney Laird Ozmon argued that if Sircher’s symptoms had been properly diagnosed during a work physical in 1994, his client could have received treatment that would have ‘slowed the destruction of his lungs and extended his life.
Sircher has since lost an estimated 75 percent of his lung capacity, and he requires oxygen intermittently, according to Ozmon. His body can stand only minimal exertion, making it impossible for Sircher to help his wife, Denise Sircher, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and lupus.
The attorney described his client as “a pulmonary cripple” whose life expectancy was reduced by 15 to 20 years because he did not receive timely treatment.
Ozmon filed a lawsuit in Cook County alleging that defendants Occupational Medicine Network Inc. and GlenOaks Medical Center, both located in Glendale Heights, should have properly diagnosed his breathing problems during a work-related exam in 1994.
The attorney alleged that doctors failed to conduct a pulmonary test that would have shown an irreversible loss of lung function and suggested that Sircher suffered from more than asthma. “It was a basic precursor to determining a loss of lung function inconsistent with asthma,” Ozmon said.
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, which can be diagnosed with a blood test, would have been a likely culprit had the doctors looked beyond asthma, Ozmon said.
Instead, doctors cleared Sircher for duty 10 days after his physical, Ozmon said. As he worked, his lung function continued to deteriorate. He was finally diagnosed correctly in 1996, Ozmon said. “By that time, he could barely stand up in the shower,” Ozmon said.
The attorney representing Occupational Medicine Network and GlenOaks Medical Center could not be reached for comment Wednesday, The lawsuit also named as a defendant the Asthma and Allergy Center in Bloomingdale, where Sircher had been receiving treatment for his breathing difficulties.
An estimated 21 -million Americans are undetected carriers of the disease, according to the Alpha-1 Foundation Web site.
The liver normally produces a protein called trypsin, which assists in ridding the body of dead cells. A healthy person also produces a protein known as anti-trypsin, which prevents the trypsin protein from destroying healthy cells, specifically in the lungs.
The only approved treatment for the lung disease is a weekly augmentation of the Alpha-1 protein, which can cost an estimated $60,000 per person, according to the Alpha-1 Foundation.
Signs of the disease can include shortness of breath, rapid deterioration of lung function, decreased exercise tolerance, chronic liver problems, elevated liver enzymes and a lack of response to asthma or allergy treatment.