I thought that my time in the Michigan Legislature came to a close last Tuesday. So, needless to say I was surprised to open my email yesterday to see a letter from my lawyer,
telling me that the bills would be introduced to the House next week. He assured me this was not a negative or a setback, but just part of the process. He also wanted me to know that he has been asked by many people if I would be willing to give my testimony again this Thursday, May 31st, to the House Judiciary Committee. Just like last time, he told me that there would be no guarantee that I would be called up to testify, but since he explained that my testimony has been requested many times by many different people since I appeared in the Senate, he thinks that I would have a great chance to tell my “story” again.
This line really got me: “You have put a new face and life into patients denied their day in court.”
My first response reading this email? Overwhelmed. Freaked out. Exhausted. Torn.
After all, I do have a job that I love and this would again interrupt a day with my precious kids. Also, May 31 happens to be the last day for my pre-kindergartners so I felt extra torn. I went to bed, not being able to deal with it. I decided to sleep on it and give it more thought in the morning when I was fresh.
The next day, I began to think of solutions for how I could speak to the House AND still have a last day with my pre-kindergarteners. I also told a few people who are often my “voices of reason” my dilemma, and asked what they would do.
Long story short, every person I spoke to, looked at me and told me I needed to do this for me and the people who live in Michigan. One person said to me, “Katie, I know you are thinking about teaching and your kids, but your testimony has the power to affect thousands.” With that, I decided that I felt too passionate about opposing this proposed bill, and I would regret it if I let this opportunity slip away. I emailed my lawyer to let him know that I was “in,” if the hearings were a go on Thursday. I also came up with the solution that I would invite my pre-kindergarteners back to my class the next day so I could have their last day with them.
Tuesday I will find out if this is going to happen for sure. So for now, I am just standing by.
I have also been asked by a few people if I would share my testimony so here it is…It is very similar to my blog post, “My Say.” I just tweaked it a bit, and included a little more at the end about what I personally think of the proposed Senate Bill.
My name is Katie Dama Jaskolski. I am here today to explain to you what happened to me 13 years ago, when I was 17.
I was a nationally ranked gymnast at the time being recruited by Brown University, Rutgers, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, and Michigan State University, to name a few. It had been my dream since I was three years old to compete for a university on a full ride collegiate gymnastics scholarship. The future looked bright.
I won the state meet in 1999 and was preparing for regionals and nationals when I fell from the bars and suffered an elbow ligament tear. It soon became clear that I needed to have my elbow reconstructed. A surgeon operated on my elbow in the summer of 1999. The plan was that he would take my palmaris longus tendon from my wrist to repair my elbow ligament by using it as an anchor to hold the ligament together. I was told that from start to finish, with surgery and physical therapy, that I should be back in action in the gym in three months. I remember mentally calculating the time, and feeling a burst of hope that I would be ready to compete for my senior year season.
I recall going in to surgery with the attitude, let’s just get it over with already, so I can get back in the gym. I had colleges to visit, and was still holding on to the dream of competing on a scholarship for a university. Waking up from the surgery, I was told that my elbow was in worse shape than they had thought, but that the surgeon thought it went very well. It was in the days that followed, that I kept remarking on how tingly my arm and hand felt. I also kept remarking how I could not feel my fingers.
In a post-operative check, I was told that my nerve was probably bumped during the surgery and that was most likely the reason why I was feeling less sensation and so tingly. I was assured that the feeling would return and the shocky and tingly sensations would go away.
However, the days of experiencing these symptoms turned into a week. And then two weeks. The tingles and shocky sensations along with the fact that I could not move or feel my hand got worse.
Panic had set in.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was lying on my Mom and Dad’s couch icing my arm, when I just burst into tears. I knew in my heart that something was very wrong. I asked my Mom to put something in my hand. She grabbed a little stuffed pig that was next to her and I tried with everything I had to close my hand around it and squeeze. My hand just laid there. My fingers would not move. My Mom was on the phone in seconds, and I was back in the surgeon’s office within an hour.
The surgeon came in and did a few tests. He also had me try to squeeze his fingers, but I still could not move them. He told me had to step out of the office and he would be right back. What seemed like an eternity was probably five minutes. When he came back in, he said to me, “I need to send you over to the hospital for nerve studies. I think I may have made a mistake.”
I could go on and on about the nitty-gritty details of everything that transpired after “the day” I found out my life had changed forever. Instead, I think it’s best for me today to stick to the basics. I was immediately sent from my doctor’s office to the hospital for an EMG, or a nerve test. It did not take long for the test to show I had major nerve damage in my hand and arm. The thinking was that the median nerve was cut at some point during my elbow reconstruction surgery.
Family and friends sprang into action and began to search for surgeons who had dealt with a case like mine before. It was not long before the head of reconstructive hand surgery at the Cleveland Clinic agreed to see me and take my case. The first of three reconstructive surgeries were scheduled. The plan was to reconstruct my hand so that I would be able to move my fingers again. He also planned to take a piece of nerve from my leg and graft it into the spot where the nerve was thought to be cut. This would be reconstructive surgery #1. I remember waking up from this surgery and commenting to the nurses that I did not feel any pain in my leg.
This is when the big bomb was dropped.
My median nerve had not been cut.
It had been stripped, or in other words, removed from my hand to my elbow. I had happened to be a person who did not have a palmaris longus tendon, so my median nerve was mistaken for the tendon, removed, and used to anchor my torn ligament. Being a nerve, it died when it was put into my elbow, and therefore I learned that my elbow ligament was also still shredded.
Because of this news, I started to process what it all meant for me, my life, and my future. 14 years of gymnastics was over just like that. Any hope of competing for a university on an athletic scholarship was gone. I did not know if I would ever be able to use my arm or hand again. I was told that I had many more reconstructive surgeries ahead of me along with years of occupational therapy to retrain my brain to learn how to use my arm again.
At 17, that was a lot to take in.
My first step was to find a psychiatrist. I knew I needed to in order to work through the various emotions of everything I was going through. I also underwent more surgeries at the Cleveland Clinic with the hand surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. During one of the surgeries, my 4th toe tendon was taken to anchor and fix the original elbow ligament injury. The stump of the nerve where it had been cut, was drilled into my bone twice in order to reduce the shocks and electricity I was getting throughout my body. I had more tendon transfers in my arm and hand. Throughout this time, I also began intensive occupational therapy. Because my arm and hand had to be completely rewired, I had to learn how to use them again. I ended up spending 7 years doing occupational therapy with a certified hand therapist.
Throughout these intensive treatments, my parents and I decided to take legal action. For my rights, for the emotional and psychological toll it took on me, to advocate for myself, and to try to secure compensation for a college education that I was on track to receive from a collegiate gymnastics scholarship.
However, it was not that easy.
Unbeknownst to me, at that time the law that existed in our state afforded this particular doctor with “governmental immunity.” As I came to understand, those doctors who enjoyed the defense of “governmental immunity” meant that in order for me to prove my case against my physician, it was necessary for me to prove that during the surgery my doctor’s conduct was grossly and recklessly negligent.
Despite the fact that I had amazing lawyers who fought for me day and night for years, it turned out that my case was not granted in my favor because of this governmental immunity law. As it turned out in my case, the burden of proving gross negligence turned out to be impossible to prove, notwithstanding the horrible mishap the doctor committed during my surgery. As the Michigan Court of Appeals stated when they affirmed the dismissal of my case, in order to prove gross negligence, I had to prove, “that the defendant simply did not care about my health and safety.” Even the fact that my surgeon had never before performed this procedure was not enough.
It was honestly a devastating blow and something I had a very difficult time wrapping my head around.
When my lawyers called a couple of weeks ago to ask if I would be willing to tell my story to all of you and how it affected my life, I did not have to think twice. I told them I would love to do anything I can to prevent others from going through what I went through, because of the governmental immunity law.
It is my hope that by sharing my story today, I will help you all think twice before passing a law that would require all Michigan doctors to merely just “try their best.” The fact that it is even being considered at all to afford all doctors in Michigan with governmental immunity is honestly inconceivable to me. Being someone whose whole life was affected by this law, it is impossible for me to neither comprehend nor understand why any legislature would want to pass a law such as this that would, in essence, give all doctors a license to commit malpractice on their patients. If this is true, and if this law were to pass, I only hope that what happened to me does not happen to you or a loved one.
Furthermore, I strongly believe that it should be the right of all patients to know that their doctors are being held accountable, to a high standard of patient care, while using objective, fair, and ethical criteria. In my eyes, and because of my experiences, I believe the ethical thing to do is to maintain the integrity of patient care by not passing this proposed law.
I appreciate your time and attention and for allowing me the opportunity to have, as they say, “my fair day in court.”