JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4JAX has an I-TEAM update on an investigation into Dr. David Heekin — formerly at Ascension St. Vincent’s — who is accused of botching hundreds of surgeries from 2016 to 2020 while suffering a progressive neurological condition that caused him to lose his balance and slur his speech.
Plaintiffs have filed audio recordings they say are dictations the doctor made in the operating room immediately after performing surgeries toward the end of his career.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys told the I-TEAM they have filed 377 lawsuits so far, and they expect there to be at least 100 more.
They allege Dr. David Heekin and St. Vincent’s knew or should have known he was unfit to practice but allowed him to continue to operate anyway. They allege this led to devastating outcomes for patients.
The plaintiffs filed ten audio clips — such as this one — in support of their argument that punitive damages should be on the table. In the video, you can hear a man speaking unintelligibly in some parts throughout the nearly five minute long clip.
A video taken in 2015 was another filed by the plaintiffs as a comparison.
In the video, you can clearly hear the doctor say, “Hi. I’m Dr. David Heekin, Orthopedic surgeon at the medical director of the orthopedic center of excellence at St. Vincent’s.”
One of the plaintiff’s attorneys told the I-TEAM that the slurred speech audio recording of him was made five years later in the operating room post-surgery, as a physician assistant closed up the still-unconscious patient.
“Dr. Heekin… [unintelligible] operated on Stephen D. Fortier...” the man’s voice is heard saying in the clip.
RELATED: Deposition video shows former St. Vincent’s surgeon accused of botching procedures slurring speech, having outbursts | Lawsuits allege Ascension St. Vincent’s knew doctor wasn’t fit to operate, but allowed him to perform surgeries | Legal filings show St. Vincent’s agrees to participate in arbitration proceedings to resolve some claims threatened against hospital, David Heekin
That patient is now one of the hundreds of people suing Dr. Heekin, the Heekin Clinic, and St. Vincent’s — alleging the surgeon began to be affected by progressive supranuclear palsy in 2016 and that the hospital continued to let him operate for years.
According to Mayo Clinic, that brain disorder gets worse over time and results from deterioration in areas of the brain that control, body movement, coordination, thinking, and other functions. Symptoms include loss of balance, vision problems, and slow or slurred speech.
In a lawsuit, the patient who underwent surgery that day alleges Dr. Heekin negligently caused an injury to their tendon and that they had to go in for two revision surgeries.
Plaintiffs allege that Dr. Heekin, in February 2020, after knee surgery, was unnecessary and fractured the patient’s femur.
They allege he can be heard slurring his words in audio from the operating room on March 2, 2020, after performing a knee replacement on a patient who tested positive for MRSA before the surgery. They also allege the patient’s knee tendon ruptured the next day.
Dr. Heekin retired the following month — later revealing in a deposition that his medical condition contributed to his decision to retire.
An attorney for St Vincent’s declined to comment, but in a document filed in court on Wednesday, they argued the plaintiffs have not met their burden of demonstrating that the hospital’s conduct warrants permitting plaintiffs to add a claim for punitive damages. They also argue the plaintiffs aren’t entitled to seek punitive damages because they previously rejected the hospital’s offer of arbitration pursuant to a statute that prohibits plaintiffs from seeking punitive damages after rejecting such an offer.
A hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion to seek punitive damages scheduled for next week where the plaintiffs can respond to the defense’s argument.
Court records show St. Vincent’s has accepted liability in some of the malpractice lawsuits involving Dr. Heekin while denying wrongdoing in others.
We have reached out to attorneys for Dr. Heekin and the Heekin Clinic for comment but have not yet heard back.