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Civil Court Case Against Local Doctor Goes to Jury

After two weeks of testimony, the civil trial of a local physician has gone to the jury.

The civil case against local doctor Fred R. Leess IV, is in the hands of the seven men and one woman on the jury.

Leess was sued by Jennifer Legge, the mother of Anthony (A.J.) and Joshua Legge, twins who both died following ton sillectomy and adenoidoc tomies performed by Leess at Memorial Hospital of Union County.

Legge, through her attorney, argued that Leess failed to meet the standard of care for the surgery performed on 3 year-old boys with breathing problems.

Jennifer Legge testified that both boys would snore very loudly, sleep restlessly and stop breathing for short periods dur ing the night. She took the boys to see Leess at his office and following a brief consultation with the mother, he ordered the surgery.

Both boys had the surgery the morning of April 18, 2006. After being observed at the hospital for four hours, they were released.

Legge testified the boys were still not fully awake when they were discharged. She took them home and observed them through the day. In the middle of the night, Anthony Legge went into respiratory distress and died before reaching the hospital. Later that night, Joshua Legge went into respi ratory distress and died two days later at Children's Hospi tal in Columbus.

Coroners determined the Legge twins had elevated lev els of codeine in their systems and died of codeine toxicity.

The parents argued the twins had breathing problems and should not have been released, but should have been observed overnight.

During closing arguments, Gerald Leeseberg told the jury Leess failed to ask the right questions or get enough infor mation about the boys before ordering the surgery.

"He could have asked mom to get a sleep study. But he did n't," Leeseberg told the jury. "He could have used a focused questionnaire. But he didn't. He could have used a home video or audio. But he didn't. He could have ordered a (pulse oxygen) monitor. But he did n't."

He added, "Dr. Leess did not thoroughly evaluate these patients before surgery."

Leeseberg said Leess orders all surgeries as outpatient regardless of the history or cir cumstances.

"Medicine is not one size fits all," Leeseberg told the jury. "If you treat everybody the same, if you use a cookie cutter approach, it doesn't work and one of your patients is going to get hurt."

He said the levels of codeine in the boys' blood were not toxic and the boys died of a preexisting breathing problem that Leess should have diagnosed.

Leeseberg said family mem bers are the most valuable thing people have.

"I haven't heard anything in this two-week trial that has said this was anything but an avoidable, horrible tragedy," Leeseberg said. "...This loss will haunt this family forever. It could have been prevented with a little more time, a little more prevention and a little more care."

Frederick Sewards, attorney for Leess, argued the boys had a condition that caused them to absorb the post-operation pain medication too slowly.

"It (the codeine given to the boys) wasn't clearing," Sewards said. "It was building up in Joshua and Anthony's blood with a toxic effect."
He said that's why the symp toms did not show up for 15 hours, rather than two to four which would have been expected if the surgery trig gered a preexisting breathing problem. Seward said the boy's breathing troubles was caused by the enflamed tonsils and adenoids, not sleep apnea or other disorder.

The attorney explained codeine is an opiate which causes respiratory distress.

Sewards reminded the jury that Leess followed the same procedure as doctors from Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Cleveland Children's Hospital, the University of North Caroli na's Medical Center and Stan ford University Medical Cen ter. He showed the jury a chart, created by one of the expert medical witnesses brought in by Legge's attorney, which showed Leess followed the process she uses in evaluating patients.

"If you conclude this doctor was negligent, then you have to say these pillars of the med ical community are negligent and recommending negligent care," Sewards said.

Jennifer and Shannon, par ents of the boys, broke down during final closing arguments as Anne Valentine, another of their attorneys, showed the jury pictures of the two boys.

"This is what this case is about - A.J. and Joshua Legge," she said.

She told the jury that Jen nifer Legge cannot smell peanut butter without thinking of her sons. Valentine asked how much it is worth to feel your children's fingers against your face.

"This is a loss of love, a loss of society, a loss of compan ionship, a loss of family," Valentine said.

The jury is expected to have a verdict, as well as possible compensation and punitive damages next week.

By Mac Cordell
Marysville Journal-Tribune

Contact Leeseberg & Valentine today. Medical malpractice attorneys in Columbus Ohio.

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