$2 Million Settlement in Lawsuit Over N.Y. Prisoner Denied Emergency Eye Surgery Until She Went Blind
When she was 40, in 2015, Carolyn Richardson had cosmetic iris implants inserted in both her eyes. The next year, she was arrested and held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Brooklyn New York, a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility. She had been diagnosed with “pink eye” infection in her left eye shortly before her arrest, and it was noted on her intake forms. An optometry consultation was scheduled.
On July 28, 2016, Richardson was seen by MCC’s contract optometrist James Weyand, O.D. She complained of clouded vision, sensations of grittiness and decreased visual acuity in both eyes. Weyand diagnosed “unspecified glaucoma” and noted it in her chart.
In fact, Richardson was suffering from closed-angle glaucoma, probably caused by her iris implants blocking the drainage angle in her eyes. The American Optometric Association refers to the condition as a “medical emergency that can cause blindness within a day of its onset” but can “usually be controlled” if “diagnosed and treated early.”
Starting on August 18, 2016, Richardson began experiencing recurrent and worsening symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma, including pain and reduced visual acuity—especially in her left eye. She submitted multiple sick call requests complaining of the symptoms. She was seen by Weyand, then-MCC Clinical Director Anthony Bussanich, M.O., and Robert Beaudouin, M.O. They were not helpful and even allegedly mocked her condition, inferring it was her fault.
“I bet you wish you didn’t put those implants in,” said Bussanich.
“We didn’t tell you to put those things in your eyes,” then-MCC Health Services Administrator told her on another occasion.
Both of those derisive statements indicate that MCC medical personnel at the highest levels knew that the iris implants were causing the glaucoma by blocking the drainage angle, yet they did not refer her to an ophthalmologist despite multiple examinations in August, September and early October 2016, which confirmed her glaucoma and worsening symptoms. Bussanich and Weyand did start prescribing anti-glaucoma medications for her starting on September 2, 2016, yet they led her to believe that she was merely suffering from a mild infection known as “pink eye.”
Finally, on October 20, 2016, Richardson was taken to a hospital to see a glaucoma specialist. He diagnosed her with moderate stage ‘‘chronic closed-angle glaucoma” likely caused by iris implants as well as “unspecified iridocyclitis” and “unspecified adhesions of the iris” in the left eye. He noted that her intra-occular pressure needed to be well controlled before considering removal of the implants and prescribed powerful steroid eyedrops to control the pressure.
He ordered that she return to the hospital in a week. Bussanich entered the orders verbatim in Richardson’ s clinical record. Nonetheless, it was three months before she was returned to the hospital, by which time she had 20/400 vision in her left eye.
The hospital’s ophthalmologist was upset that Richardson had been kept on steroids for so long and not returned to the hospital for her follow up one week after the initial appointment. He scheduled an appointment with a glaucoma specialist and emphasized that she could not miss it. At last, on February 23, 2017, her left iris implant was removed. During a follow-up examination in April, the hospital physician noted that she still had high intra-occular pressure, still needed glaucoma surgery, and probably would now require combined cornea, retina and glaucoma surgery.
MCC continued to have problems getting Richardson to her appointments, delaying the removal of the right iris implant until June 1, 2017, and the combined surgery until December 2017. Unfortunately, the surgery did not help much and Richardson has irreversible blindness in the left eye and severe pain due to closed-angle glaucoma, blurry vision, permanent nerve damage, permanent iris atrophy, and severe photophobia in both eyes. She was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to 15 years in August 2017.
Aided by New York attorney Alan L. Fuchsberg of the Jacob D. Fuchberg Law Firm, Richardson filed a federal lawsuit pursuant to Bivens and the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671, et seq., against the U.S., Bussanich, Beaudouin, Weyand, Gregory, and other, unnamed MCC defendants. The suit alleged violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments, medical malpractice and neglect. One issue was a BOP policy that prevented the hospital physicians from discussing Richardson’s case with her.
“These inmates are not being told about the severity and permanency of their condition. (Richardson) was literally sitting there, thinking it’s just pink eye infection that’s gonna go away if she keeps taking the eye drops,” said Richardson’s current attorney, Jaehyun Oh. “Turns out, it’s going to be something she’ll live with for the rest of her life.” See: Richardson v. United States, Case No. l:19-cv-01892-WHP, U.S.D.C. (S.D. N.Y.).
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Related legal case
Richardson v. United States
|Case No. l:19-cv-01892-WHP, U.S.D.C. (S.D. N.Y.)