Ex-prisoner sues over severe reaction to drug

  • Article by: PAUL MCENROE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 13, 2011 - 9:07 PM

Teddy Korf is suing the state prison system's health care provider in federal court for medical negligence and denial of care. The state says he got "best treatment available."

A former inmate who lost his skin and suffered severe eye damage from an adverse drug reaction is suing the state prison system's health care provider in federal court in Minneapolis for medical negligence and denial of care.

Teddy Korf, 49, of Pine City, has already received $275,000 from the state Department of Corrections in a settlement over injuries he sustained while imprisoned at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility in the summer of 2007.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery directed Korf's attorney and counsel for the medical provider, Corizon Inc., to hold a settlement conference soon with U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel.

Korf wound up on a ventilator and then spent 30 days in the burn unit of Hennepin County Medical Center, where his outer layer of skin became charred and sloughed from his entire body. Korf, who was released from prison in 2009, eventually underwent a stem cell transplant and two cornea transplants in an attempt to save his eyesight. All three procedures have failed.

In a statement Tuesday, Department of Corrections officials said prison medical staff treated Korf appropriately and that the department settled the case only to save taxpayers money.

"The DOC health care system was able to diagnose this rare condition when it afflicted Teddy Korf,'' Assistant Commissioner David Crist said in a prepared statement. Prison authorities "acted appropriately and provided the best treatment available."

But department records and medical documents show that prison medical staff did not identify Korf's ailment when he was rushed from his cell to a St. Cloud hospital in the summer of 2007. Prison records also show a rapid escalation of Korf's complaints to prison staff in the days before he was hospitalized, a sequence that ended when he was found unconscious in his cell by guards on a night in July 2007.

Hospital records also show that when Korf arrived at the St. Cloud emergency room, medical staff were unable to obtain an adequate history of his care in prison. Prison medical logs and court filings show no indication that the prison medical staff ever offered the diagnosis of the side effects that caused Korf's injuries, a condition known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

The lawsuit, filed last summer against Corizon -- formerly known as Correctional Medical Services (CMS) -- asks for compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000; Korf's medical costs already have exceeded $300,000 and are likely to go much higher, according to his attorney, Teresa McClain.

Charles Gross, Corizon's attorney in St. Paul, declined to comment.

When asked what steps Corizon has taken in the wake of the incident, Corrections spokesman John Schadl said, "We've dealt with them on this issue to ensure that it won't happen again.''

Complains to guards

Less than a month after being sent to prison on a conviction for drug possession, Korf was prescribed Tegretol, a drug commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, epilepsy and nerve pain, according to records. Korf was prescribed the drug even though he had no psychiatric history except depression due to prior drug use, according to documents and his attorney. The drug's side effects include the life-threatening Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which causes the blistering and sloughing of skin.

About two weeks after being prescribed the drug, Korf started to complain about shortness of breath, fever, rash and itchy, reddened eyes, according to records. Over a three-day period, his condition continued to worsen.

He was first given Tylenol by the medical staff, and then Benadryl.

On the day before he was hospitalized, prison staff documented that Korf was yelling so loudly in distress that he could be heard by guards posted far from his cell. He complained about shortness of breath and asked to be taken to a hospital, according to a chronology of the events filed in court.

Korf told medical staff, "You guys are just making it worse,'' according to progress notes logged into his prison medical file.

Found unresponsive

The next night, Korf was found in his cell at 3 a.m. in critical condition. The prison medical staff's progress notes state: "Informed by Lt. [Lieutenant] that inmate was taken to SCH [St. Cloud Hospital] during the night for unresponsiveness."

Doctors who examined Korf at the hospital found him losing skin off his lips, mouth, airway and scrotum. His airway was so blocked that he required intubation and was put on a mechanical ventilator, according to records. He also suffered intense blistering and burning of mucous membranes, including corneal abrasions in both eyes, according to records.

Korf, a former truck driver, now requires a personal care attendant for many of his daily activities, is blind in one eye and can barely see out of the other, McClain said.

Officials said all medical costs associated with Korf's incarceration have been paid by the Corrections Department.

Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745

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