A Florida man told Breitbart News on Thursday that he thinks wealthy Democratic Party mega-donor ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen’s behavior in the operating room directly caused his mother’s death.
Melgen was 75-year-old Florida woman Nealia Cunningham’s eye doctor in 2001. She sought Melgen out, and walked into his clinic, seeking what is normally a basic outpatient procedure to fix her vision so she could continue driving a car. During the procedure, an intravenous anesthetic was administered to her. No one in the room noticed that she wasn’t breathing for around 20 minutes. Cunningham slipped into a coma immediately after the procedure. She died six days later.
Her son, Malcolm Cunningham, Jr., told Breitbart News that his mother “was a healthy 75-year-old woman who wanted to drive. She was kind of losing her eyesight.”
Cunningham said, his mother sought out an ophthalmologist: Melgen. “She got into this network, Melgen’s network, whereby she went and had surgery,” Cunningham said in a phone interview. “Whatever surgery she had in the beginning didn’t work, so he brought her back for yet some more surgery. He claimed that she had blood behind her eye and that he had to remove the blood.”
Cunningham said Melgen’s “network” is one that’s geared toward cash, profit and the bottom line--not necessarily what’s in a patient’s best interest. “Once you got into that network, as many surgeries as he could generate, he would do it,” he said. “This was a money machine. It’s unfortunate that my mother found her way to that money machine that he was involved in because the money machine was not conscientious or patient-focused.”
The surgery, according to Cunningham, normally only requires an anesthetic called an “eye block.” That means the doctors “deadened the sensitivity around her eyes.”
“These are surgeries where you wouldn’t even get even a general anesthesia,” Cunningham said of his mother’s procedure.
In the operating room, though, Cunningham said Melgen was “unsatisfied” with just the eye block because Cunningham’s mother was coughing. “So, he insisted that nurse--the CRNA [Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist]--do something to prevent her from coughing and moving,” Cunningham said. “That’s when the woman administered the Propofol without monitoring her or making sure that she had her airway protected. For 20 minutes she was unconscious--no breathing--after the Propofol was administered, and nobody knows it. They only discovered it when they pulled the sheet off of her and when they were done with the surgery. This was the damnedest thing you ever want to hear.”
In addition to Melgen ordering the CRNA to administer intravenous anesthetic drugs, Cunningham told Breitbart News he also “made it clear to everyone operating in that operating room that he did not permit the anesthesia personnel to use sounds on their monitors. Therefore, their monitors had to be silent.” Melgen apparently didn’t like the noise; any monitors that would have warned of troubles with Cunningham’s mother didn’t sound off.
In an interview with police after the fact according to the Palm Beach Post, Melgen said that a sheet covering Cunningham’s mother’s face and chest during the procedure prevented him and everyone else from noticing she stopped breathing until after the operation. Melgen said it was the CRNA nurse’s job to follow Cunningham’s mother’s condition.
Cunningham said his sister broke the news to him. “My sister who was there with her called me up,” he said. “I think I was in my office, and when I answered she said: ‘Hey, something’s happened. Meet us at the hospital.’ When I get to the hospital, she was unconscious. This was a viable 75-year-old who had very few unhealthy days.”
Less than a week later, Cunningham’s mother died, and he and his family set out to find out what happened.
“I went to the surgery center and talked to the anesthesiologist and he said he had given my mother the eye block and there was no reason to administer any other drugs like Propofol,” Cunningham said. “He just didn’t understand why it was that they administered these additional drugs.”
Cunningham also tried talking to the CRNA. “The CRNA who administered the Propofol ultimately hung up on me,” he said. “She talked to me the first time I called her. But the next time, she hung up and wouldn’t talk to me again.”
Melgen blamed the anesthesiologist and the CRNA through his lawyer. “That lawyer [Melgen’s] said I should to talk to the anesthesia people because ‘they’re responsible and we’re encouraging them to pay,’” Cunningham said.
“When I talked to Melgen himself, Melgen said: ‘Look, this was an anesthesia problem. My surgery turned out perfectly.’ I said to him: ‘I don’t understand that statement. My mother is unconscious. She can’t talk. She can’t move. And you say your surgery turned out perfectly? I don’t get that.’”
Over the next year or so, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office built a case against the CRNA--Tina Mays. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Melgen called Mays’s actions in the operating room “pure negligence.” In December 2001, a grand jury indicted Mays on a misdemeanor culpable negligence charge to which she later pled guilty.
Cunningham isn’t pleased with the outcome of all this, and still doesn’t think justice has been served. “The nurse did plead guilty but that’s not the end of why it was that Melgen failed to realize that my mother had been unconscious for almost an hour—20 minutes, I think it was—before anyone ever learned that she was in trouble.”
When asked if the investigators in this case focused too heavily on the nurse, and not on the doctor, Cunningham told Breitbart News: “There’s no doubt about it.”
“Melgen has direct responsibility for the failure of the nurse to maintain her monitors and maintain and observe and be conscious of the monitors and whether or not my mother was breathing. This is a guy who, at 6 o’clock, was probably trying to do 20 cases into the evening, not to mention the cases that he did during the day. He had a reputation of being a tyrant in the operating room, insisting that the anesthesia personnel turn off the sound for the monitors. A guy a like Melgen brings 20, 30, 40 or 50 cases to a surgery center and thereby creates income for the surgery center. He has a pretty good influence over how people in that surgery center respond to him.”
Cunningham believes Melgen is directly responsible for his mother’s death.
“With this standing order about the silence of the monitors and his instructions to the CRNA to do something, administer some drugs to prevent my mother from coughing and/or moving, combined the dark room and his tyrant personality, I think all of that contributed to and caused my mother’s death,” he said.
If Melgen weren’t his mother’s surgeon, Cunningham said “she would have had a good chance of surviving that surgery because there would be someone who’s conscientious and is more interested in her health and well being as opposed to the dollars they were going to generate by quickly moving through it and getting to the next case.”
Legally, there’s not much the Cunningham family can do to Melgen. “There’s not even really a medical malpractice law in Florida,” Cunningham, a lawyer, said. “And our complaints with the different medical licensing boards didn’t go anywhere.”
But Cunningham has hope that the current attention on Melgen for his connections to the scandal surrounding New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez might bring some of this behavior to light. “I think the scrutiny that he’s attracting right now is going to expose the machine that he’s been pursuing throughout his practice.”
“Let me tell you: There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about that,” he said. “He was the guy that was responsible for my mother getting the drugs that ultimately caused her death. The CRNA wasn’t in there operating by her bootstraps. In my way of thinking, Melgen is the one who insisted that she administer additional drugs to keep my mother from coughing and/or moving.”
Melgen is licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida and has been since June 1986. The Washington Free Beacon recently reported that though Melgen lists having gained medical experience at institutions connected to Yale and Harvard universities, neither Ivy League school had records of him ever being there.