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A Florida doctor may never be able to walk or breathe on his own after his family claims medical staffers -- at the very hospital he served for more than 30 years -- gave him a lethal dose of a painkiller called Dilaudid.

Lance Lester, 74, was chief of cardiovascular surgery at JFK Medical Center in South Florida.

"I know that everybody thinks their dad is special, but our dad is just the most fun, amazing person. He just the kind of person that really … finds that joy for life," Lindsay Stortz said.

Stortz, Lester's daughter and legal guardian, told WPBF 25 her father walked into the Atlantis facility to have a procedure performed on his back by a neurosurgeon on May 9. The next day he went into a coma.

"He woke up OK from the surgery. Then he had some pain and they gave him too much Dilaudid,” Stortz said. “They gave him an extremely large dose. It made his breathing stop and after his breathing stopped he wasn't taken care of appropriately for someone that had stopped breathing."

Stortz is a registered nurse and director of clinical operations with a North Carolina hospital. She said members of the medical staff were in the room when Lester stopped breathing and waited to perform CPR, causing his heart to stop.

"Since May 10, he has an anoxic brain injury. He's been hospitalized since that time. He cannot breathe on his own. He's very, very sick and he requires around-the-clock care," Stortz said.

Lester loved helping others, according to Stortz. Through tears, she said he wanted the surgery so he could play with his only grandson.

"He finally has his first grandbaby after waiting for a long time. He's 2. And he was just really looking forward to getting his surgery so that his back would feel a little better. So he could roll around on the floor with the 2-year-old again and teach him to ride horses," Stortz explained. "He's just the type of person that loves life, loves his family loves to be around people. And it's just so horrifically sad that now he's not able to enjoy any of those things."

Since the incident, Lester has undergone evaluations and various treatments in Miami and Spaulding Rehabilitative Hospital in Boston.

"Dilaudid is clinically similar to heroin and is one of the strongest painkiller opioids used in medicine. It is eight times more potent than morphine and it's most common and deadly side effect is respiratory depression causing death, especially in older patients such as Dr. Lester if not promptly addressed and treated," according to the complaint filed Tuesday by private attorney David W. Spicer.

Spicer said the hospital never accepted responsibility for what happened on May 10.

“This is just a senseless tragedy, for a doctor or any patient to receive an overdose of any medication at a hospital happens. It shouldn't happen but it does happen. For the hospital not to be able to give him Narcan to reverse this ... to do the basic life support … there's just no excuse for it," Spicer said.

But JFK Medical Center released the following statement to WPBF:

“Dr. Lester was a longtime and valued member of the JFK Medical Center family, and this is a tragic situation for all of us who have known him and worked with him for many years. While our hearts go out to his family, friends and colleagues, we disagree with allegations in the suit and we will present our side through the legal process,” the statement read.

The family's attorney is asking the court for an expedited trial date. Spicer says normally it can take up to two years, but he's hoping he can present Lester's case within the next 12 months.

"Unfortunately, in Florida, if Dr. Lester passes away the lawsuit ends," Spicer said. He is seeking $15 million for medical negligence which resulted in catastrophic injury.

“He’s our dad and we love him. We will do everything we can to give him as much quality of life and as much enjoyment as we can,” Stortz said. “A lot of what he needs is not covered by Medicare. A lot of his needs we are not going to be able to afford otherwise.”

The family will be transferring Lester to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston to continue his treatment.


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