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Doctor wins battle to regain license; now he’s suing over 15-year suspension

Dr. Lance Wilson was a successful physician for more than a decade when his career took a nose-dive in 1998.

His medical license was suspended after he injected a terminally ill patient with a powerful drug and the man died at a suburban hospital.

Wilson, a cardiologist, said he was trying to ease the man’s suffering, but the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide. The case landed on the front page of Chicago’s newspapers and Wilson was even compared with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was dubbed “Dr. Death” for participating in dozens of physician-assisted suicides of patients with terminal illnesses.

Wilson’s medical license was suspended for more than 15 years and then revoked in 2013. He lost a job that paid about $500,000 a year. He lost his home in foreclosure. He lost his car. And to make ends meet, he worked as a short-order cook at the Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery and taught biology at local colleges.

All the while, his wife stood by him as he fought in the courts to regain his medical license so he could return to the work he loved. She took a job at a department store to help with the bills.

Last year, Wilson won the battle over his license when a Cook County judge reversed the revocation in a decision that went unnoticed in the media. Wilson, now 58, agreed to put his license on hold until he could take continuing medical education courses and pass a test. He is almost finished with those courses.

Now that his quest to regain his license is nearly over, he’s back in court again. He wants justice for what he sees as an orchestrated effort by the medical examiner’s office and the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation to smear his reputation and kill his career. Wilson sued them in early January in federal court in Chicago, seeking compensatory damages, including at least $7.5 million in lost earnings. He’s also seeking punitive damages, which would go to the American Heart Association for research, according to his lawsuit.

“This case is about the defendants’ rush to judgment to strip Dr. Wilson of his medical license for the compassionate palliative care that he provided to a dying patient,” his lawsuit says.

His attorney, Dean Armstrong, said he and Wilson could not comment while the case is pending. But the lawsuit provides Wilson’s detailed account of the final minutes of Richton Park resident Henry Taylor’s life — and the fallout that led the state to pull Wilson’s medical license.

Taylor, 69, a kidney dialysis patient with end-stage renal disease, was admitted to Olympia Fields Osteopathic Hospital with swelling to his right arm on Sept. 18, 1998.

Doctors found out he was suffering from a potentially fatal condition that blocks the flow of blood from the upper part of the body to the heart. The condition — superior vena cava syndrome — eventually leads to swelling in the neck and compression of the windpipe.

Taylor had signed “do not resuscitate” orders that prevented doctors from taking steps to save his life. Twelve days after he entered the hospital, he would not let doctors insert a breathing tube when he started to suffocate.

Wilson was a consultant to Taylor’s attending physician because of the cardiological aspects of his disease. He was called to dissolve a clot that was backing up the blood in his head, face and neck. Nothing the doctor did worked.

On Sept. 30, Taylor, a retired food services worker, was dying. His arms were flailing and he looked terrified as he struggled to breathe, according to the lawsuit.

Wilson gave Taylor morphine to ease his pain.

“The morphine injections did nothing to relieve the suffering from Taylor’s gasping respirations, and the suffering from Taylor’s consciousness of his impending death through asphyxiation,” the lawsuit said.

Wilson decided to give Taylor a dose of potassium chloride — a chemical used in state executions — to knock him out and “relieve the patient’s conscious suffering during the process of death.” He said he injected Taylor with one-sixth of the fatal dosage of the drug at 8:25 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1998. While he administered the drug, Taylor died, the lawsuit said.

Taylor’s family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Wilson, but the case was dropped in 2002.

Wilson said he wept after Taylor died and took a leave of absence as the death was being investigated.

Wilson’s lawsuit said Dr. Mitra Kalelkar, a pathologist at the medical examiner’s office who conducted the autopsy, initially delayed issuing a cause of death on Oct. 1 until she saw the results of toxicology tests.

But on the same day, she then listed the death as a homicide by potassium chloride intoxication — before she even obtained the test results, the lawsuit said. She allegedly based her decision on a “story she heard from a third party.”

Kalelkar notified police and state regulators about her homicide ruling and Wilson’s license was suspended, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the medical examiner’s office told reporters the potassium chloride injection was given to “euthanize” Taylor.

But blood tests results on Oct. 2 showed Taylor had normal levels of potassium in his body because the drug didn’t circulate throughout his body before he died of suffocation, the lawsuit said.

The state Department of Professional Regulation suspended Wilson’s medical license on Oct. 9, 1998.

About a year later, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office released a statement saying a grand jury that investigated the death didn’t find evidence to support a charge that the drug caused Taylor’s death and was given with the intent of killing him.

That didn’t persuade the Department of Professional Regulation to restore Wilson’s license, though. He remained under a “temporary suspension” while he won appeal after appeal in court. The case kept going back to the department for reconsideration, and his license kept getting suspended. In 2013, the department finally revoked his license.

In June 2014, Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. reversed the revocation, saying he “did not disagree” with Wilson’s assessment that the “endless” proceedings violated the doctor’s right to due process.

“The decision [to revoke Wilson’s license] is reversed in its entirety because the department failed to render its decision promptly,” Martin wrote.

The state has decided not to challenge the judge’s order.

Wilson claims the department’s medical disciplinary board “had it out for him.”

He says one of the Department of Professional Regulation’s lawyers told him that Thomas Glasgow, chief of prosecutions for the department at the time, held a grudge against Wilson “because you got in his face talking back to him,” the lawsuit said.

Wilson also pointed to an affidavit by one of his former attorneys, Edward Nielson, who said Glasgow told his client “that if he were the prosecuting state’s attorney, he would have Dr. Wilson locked up and tried for murder because Dr. Wilson murdered Mr. Taylor.” Nielson said he was in a 1999 meeting with Wilson, Glasgow and others when that comment was supposedly made.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan is seeking to have the lawsuit against the Department of Professional Regulation and its officials dismissed. Glasgow and other former and current department officials are immune from being sued, according to the attorney general’s court filing. A spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which represents the medical examiner’s office and its officials, declined to comment. Glasgow and Kalelkar also declined to comment.