Tammy Cleveland feared the worst when she arrived to DeGraff Memorial Hospital on the night of Oct. 10, 2014.
Minutes earlier, her husband, Michael, had collapsed in a supermarket in a suburb of Buffalo. Witnesses and paramedics had performed CPR, but Michael had been rushed to the emergency room in serious condition.
Tammy was sitting in a hospital waiting room with her daughter and stepson when a young doctor named Gregory C. Perry delivered the bad news. He had worked on Michael for an hour but her husband’s heart had refused to restart, Perry allegedly told them.
Michael was dead, the doctor said.
But when Tammy and the children were allowed to see the supposedly dead man, what they saw startled them.
Michael was moving.
“I immediately noticed that Michael’s eyes turned to me,” Tammy told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “He was alive.”
When Tammy told Perry, however, she says the doctor didn’t believe her. For more than two and a half hours, she begged the physician, nurses and even a coroner to re-examine her husband — but nobody did, Tammy claims.
When Perry finally agreed to check Michael’s vital signs, he felt a heartbeat.
“My God, he’s got a pulse,” the doctor said, according to Tammy…
Tammy is suing Perry, another doctor and two hospitals in New York state court over claims that they “negligently, carelessly and recklessly treated” Michael.
“He didn’t take the time for me at all,” she said of Perry. “He just told me that my husband passed. He couldn’t just come in there and show that he was dead. He couldn’t take a second and put a stethoscope on him and prove to me that he wasn’t breathing. I don’t understand that. Why wouldn’t you do that to appease a grieving widow at that time, instead of walking in there nonchalant and give me your two cents acting like I was crazy?”
Brian Sutter, an attorney representing Perry, declined to comment on the case “due to privacy concerns.” Sutter did add, however, that “Dr. Perry is a caring physician, and as the facts of this case are fully developed, I am confident it will be established that his actions were appropriate.”
As Perry told Tammy that her husband was dead, she felt her future falling apart.
But her sorrow started to turn into confusion, then anger, when she and her daughter were allowed to see Michael. Tammy thought it was strange that Michael had supposedly just died, and yet he wasn’t hooked up to oxygen or life support.
Then she saw Michael move.
When she told the doctor and a nurse what she had seen, however, they “advised that it looked like [Michael] was breathing and that it was normal because he was expelling what was left in his young body,” according to the lawsuit. “Perry and the nurse assured them that [Michael]’s heart had stopped, that he was not alive but he may expel air and that was normal.”
When Perry and the nurse left the room, however, Michael “turned his eyes and looked at [Tammy] as she spoke to him,” according to the lawsuit.
Tammy jumped back in shock. She called Perry and the nurse back in but they “did not touch [Michael] or check his vitals but told the family members this was normal and they again left the room,” according to the lawsuit.
When Tammy kept speaking to her husband, he “responded by turning his eyes towards [her], moving his head side to side, looking at [her] and moving his legs,” the complaint continues.
Again, Tammy called in Perry and the nurse. And again, they told her that her husband was dead. For more than two hours, the process repeated itself, with Tammy increasingly convinced that her husband was alive and trying to communicate with her, while his doctors and nurses insisted he was dead, she said.
“Throughout the night, Michael was doing more and more, and asking for help,” Tammy told The Post. She tried telling Perry and the nurse a third time but was similarly rebuffed, she said.
“I knew he was alive but a part of me felt like maybe I didn’t know that I was talking about,” Tammy said. “I don’t have a medical degree but I knew he was alive and I wanted somebody to believe me.”
She reached her breaking point when the coroner arrived to take Michael away for an autopsy.
“The coroner came in and I just yelled at him: ‘Are you here to prove that my husband is dead? Because he’s not. Look at him,'” Tammy recalled. When Michael’s arm, leg and mouth moved, the coroner “looked at him and walked out” to get the doctor, she said.
“I said: My god. If the doctor doesn’t prove that Mike’s either dead or alive he’s going to be laying there with him,” Tammy told The Post.
Finally, at 11:10 p.m., Perry entered the room for a fifth time and agreed to check Michael’s vital signs. More than two hours after he declared Michael dead, Perry now felt a heartbeat.
“My God, he’s got a pulse,” the doctor said, Tammy recalls.
“No s—,” she replied.
Tammy’s account is backed up by her brother and father, who arrived at the hospital roughly two hours after she did….
“Everybody who walked into that room, Michael seemed to respond to them,” the elder Ferrera said. “I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies and when we walked in that room, I did not see a dead body there. It was very obvious he was alive.”
“It just seemed like a man struggling for life,” Peter Ferrera added.
That struggle would continue for almost 12 more hours.
“When … Perry and the hospital staff realized [Michael] was alive, they began working on [him] in an emergency pace as one would expect in the Emergency Department,” according to the lawsuit. ” … They told [Tammy] and her family that they could not handle this situation and would have [Michael] transferred to Buffalo General Medical Center for treatment.”…
At 1:06 a.m., hospital staff wheeled Michael’s gurney to the ambulance, where paramedics were shocked to see the same man they had brought in more than five hours earlier — the same man they had been told was dead.
Fifteen minutes later, the ambulance arrived at Buffalo General, where doctors scrambled to insert a stent in Michael’s heart. The procedure went well, and Tammy began to believe that Michael might make it.
“I started to make sounds of joy and the doctor said, ‘No, no, no. He’s not out of the woods yet,'” Tammy recalled.
The problem was no longer Michael’s heart but his lungs. CPR hours earlier in the supermarket had broken his ribs and punctured one of his lungs. Now the lung was filled with fluid. He was still at risk of dying.
“It was all downhill from there,” Tammy said.
At 10:48 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2014, Michael Cleveland died — this time for real.