A USC accounting professor testified Tuesday that her final day of treatment for what would be a successful battle against cervical cancer was marred by a freak accident that now has her suing the entity that controls the hospital where she was cured.
Zivia Sweeney told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of her case against the Regents of the University of California that she was on her third and last day of specialized radiation treatment at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in March 2013 when her regular nurse pulled back a pole attached to her gurney. She said the pole held a pump through which she could inject herself with morphine to ease the pain during her treatments, which required rods to be inserted vaginally.
Suddenly and without warning, the pump detached from the pole and struck Sweeney in the head, she said.
“I think I yelled `ouch,”‘ Sweeney said under questioning by her attorney, Jennifer Lenze. “She (the nurse) was shocked, I was shocked.”
Sweeney, who is married to retired Pittsburgh Steeler Calvin Sweeney, compared the pain to being hit with a sledge hammer. She said the nurse brought her some ice.
“She apologized, then she put the ice on my head,” said the 61-year- old plaintiff, who lives in View Park.
In her opening statement, Lenze said the defense has admitted negligence, but has disputed the nature and extent of her client’s injuries, which the attorney said include chronic headaches, dizziness and memory loss, all due to a traumatic brain injury.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Kenneth Maranga told the panel that the impact of being hit by the pump was not severe enough to cause a traumatic brain injury. He said the only pain the plaintiff initially complained of was abdominal and not from her head.
But Sweeney told jurors she told several people shortly after being hurt that she was having headaches, including the hospital employees who transported her from her hospital bed to the vault-like chamber less than a mile away to receive her radiation treatment in a facility where her providers would not be harmed.
“My head is killing me,” she said she told the workers.
Sweeney told jurors that her Catholic upbringing convinced her of the value of education. The Memphis native said she obtained an MBA and worked for decades in accounting jobs in the corporate world before becoming a professor at USC about nine years ago, fulfilling her lifelong dream of teaching.
She said learning that she had contracted cervical cancer was one of the worst moments “in my entire life.” She said she initially underwent radiation treatments, then turned to chemotherapy, which she described as “horrible,” especially since she has been “needle-phobic” since she was a child.
“It was my personal hell on earth,” Sweeney said.
Lenze told jurors that the radiation treatment Sweeney subsequently received at UCLA Medical Center, known as brachytherapy, has left her client cancer-free. She said Sweeney is grateful to her providers, but that the problems caused by the pump fall accident linger with her. She said the defendants have refused to acknowledge their obligations to Sweeney.
“They agreed they were careless, but they’re unwilling to pay for that mistake,” Lenze said.
Sweeney’s husband played football at USC before being drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 1979 NFL draft. He was on the Pittsburgh team that bested the Rams in Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in January 1980 and caught the last touchdown pass Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw in December 1983 before retiring.
–City News Service
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