Retiree’s widow sues clinic

Janice and James Ray Cromwell dreamed of growing old together.

They had retired from careers in the local hotel industry and looked forward to spending their golden years watching their grandchildren grow up.

But James Ray Cromwell never got the chance.

He died in May 2006 from liver disease just months after being diagnosed with hepatitis C.

“He wasn’t supposed to leave me that soon,” Janice Cromwell said, her voice cracking as she spoke Wednesday in the office of her attorney, Barry Levinson.

The sudden death crushed the family and raised an all-important question that lingered for nearly two years: How did the 60-year-old catch the fatal infection?

Janice Cromwell said she found her answer three weeks ago when health officials announced that six hepatitis C cases were linked to unsafe medical practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, including reusing syringes on the same patient, using single-dose vials of medicine on multiple patients and not properly cleaning endoscopy equipment.

James Ray Cromwell had several procedures at the clinic on Shadow Lane, including one shortly before his hepatitis diagnosis, Levinson said.

Janice Cromwell said, “That’s the only place I can say he got it because I took good care of my husband, and he took good care of himself.”

The 57-year-old former hotel maid filed a wrongful-death and medical malpractice lawsuit Wednesday in District Court against the clinic and its doctors, alleging unsafe medical practices infected and killed her husband. The lawsuit is the first involving the death of a patient out of the more than 50 lawsuits filed against the clinic.

“They always thought something was wrong,” Levinson said. “They just couldn’t figure it out.”

Lawyers for the clinic could not be reached for comment.

In a sworn statement filed with the lawsuit, Dr. Joseph Schifini, a Las Vegas anesthesiologist and pain management physician, wrote that the clinic’s practices constituted gross negligence and contributed to or caused the death of James Ray Cromwell, who was a low-risk patient for hepatitis C.

Levinson said blood tests showed the husband did not contract hepatitis C until late 2005 or early 2006, after his last procedure at the endoscopy center. He had been undergoing routine blood tests because he had diabetes and required regular blood dialysis for 13 years.

Janice Cromwell said her husband, who worked 19 years in the Tropicana kitchen, battled diabetes and a bad heart for years. Even as the hepatitis attacked his liver and sapped his life, he kept smiling no matter how much he hurt, she said.

“He just was a fighter,” she said. “He told me he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to leave me here.”

The couple met when James Ray Cromwell’s sister introduced them. In 34 years of marriage, the North Las Vegas couple had four children and three grandchildren. A fourth grandchild was born after he died.

Janice Cromwell cannot comprehend how medical professionals cut corners and put the lives of their patients in jeopardy.

“How could you live with that? I couldn’t live with that,” she said. “I couldn’t believe somebody could do that to another human being.”

She said she cries every night thinking about her husband and the time they would have shared. “He still would have been here with us, enjoying life,” she said.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0281.

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