Michael Skolnik… March 1979-June 4, 2004
It is difficult not to feel the sadness that permeates our house, as hard as we try, our beloved child, who made us a family of three, is gone forever. The loss of Michael has left scars that cannot be hidden behind bittersweet smiles.
During normal activity, Michael passed out in September 2001. A CT scan showed a slight possibility of a colloid cyst, but whatever the two to three millimeter dot was, it was non-symptomatic. I consulted with a neurosurgeon who said it was urgent to place Michael in ICU for observation. The neurosurgeon did not mince words; Michael needed to have brain surgery within two days.
It was to be a three-hour operation and six days in the hospital. The neurosurgeon explained that he had done many of these procedures, and he really didn’t even have to go inside the brain to excise the cyst. He said conclusively that the cyst was there and was blocking the cerebral spinal fluid from flowing.
The three hour operation lasted six hours with no cyst ever being found. However, heavy manipulation had been done to Michael’s brain. His “six day hospital stay” became five months in ICU, 22 months in other medical institutions and the last six months of his life at home, in our own “ICU.”
Upon further examination of the CT scan, it became evident that the neurosurgeon’s pressure to rush Michael into surgery was unwarranted. This marked the beginning of a 32-month nightmare of brain surgeries, infections, pulmonary embolisms, respiratory arrest, vision impairment, paralysis, psychosis, severe seizure disorder, short-term memory loss, multiple organ failure and near total dependence and disability. Michael could not eat, speak, or move anything but his right hand. Nearly every day during this traumatic time, Michael used his sole limb control to shape his fingers into a gun, and hold them to his temple. Our strapping 6’4’’ EMT and nursing student was now totally helpless and had the cognitive ability of a third grader.
Michael’s medical bills amounted to 4.5 million dollars, and the legal bills were just beginning to amass. We listened to the doctor who had claimed to have performed many such surgeries admit – in a legal deposition – that Michael’s procedure had only been his second. Despite all our attempts to research the doctor’s background, this was the first time we’d heard the truth about his level of experience.
I remember thinking I had to do something; our son is not coming back, but perhaps now someone else’s loved one won’t be lost. Three years after Michael’s death, we fought for physician profile transparency and disclosure in Colorado. We found out that there were other medical malpractice cases pending and a number of formal complaints to the Board of Medical Examiners regarding this medical predator.
At that time, none of this background information was available to the public. We worked to change that. On May 24, 2007 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law The Michael Skolnik Medical Transparency Act, which became effective January 2, 2008. In 2009, my organization–Colorado Citizens for Accountability—launched PatientsRightToKnow.org, which allows you to find out what physician background reporting is available in your state.
Historically, doctors are most trusted by our society. To maintain that trust, we all must advocate not only for insurance reform but for safe quality care. To have access to insurance without quality and safety is to have a bicycle without wheels or possibly a family that loses “their Michael”.
Written by Patty Skolnik, Michael’s mother and founder of Colorado Citizens for Accountability