Lawsuit: Clovis repeatedly texted doctor before losing use of his legs

By: - September 29, 2022 1:55 pm

Former candidate for U.S. Senate from Iowa, Sam Clovis, is pursuing a lawsuit for medical malpractice. (Photo courtesy of Iowans4SamClovis)

In the weeks before he permanently lost the use of his legs, former Iowa candidate for the U.S. Senate Sam Clovis allegedly texted his physician and questioned his course of treatment.

“I’m not a doctor but this smacks of nerve damage,” Clovis reportedly texted the doctor, assessing his predicament four weeks before physicians reached that conclusion and attempted emergency surgery.

That and other text messages Clovis allegedly sent are part of a lawsuit Clovis is pursuing against UnityPoint Health and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center of Sioux City, Regency Square Center, Family Health Care of Siouxland, Dr. Melissa Austrem-Krell, Dr. Michael Lynn Brenner, Dr. Rita K. Jenkins and Dr. Thomas J. Wente.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants were responsible for Clovis’ medical care between April and June of 2019, when he awakened to discover that he was losing the use of his legs and was incontinent.

Clovis claims the defendants missed “multiple opportunities” to diagnose a thoracic spinal cord abscess that has resulted in nerve damage and permanent injury to his spinal cord. According to the lawsuit, he is now “wheelchair bound as a paraplegic, requiring significant round-the-clock care.”

Clovis, 73, was a vocal advocate for tort reform in his failed 2014 campaign to become the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate. Like many Republicans, Clovis called for limits on people’s ability to sue for malpractice. At the time, he argued such cases were driving up the cost of medical care by encouraging defensive medicine and unnecessary diagnostic testing.

Clovis is suing for negligence and is seeking unspecified damages for medical expenses; loss of function of the mind and body; physical pain and mental anguish; and lost earning capacity. The defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

‘Cannot stand up … Something has to be done.’ 

In newly filed court papers, a series of text messages Clovis allegedly sent to Brenner, his physician, are referenced.

On the evening of May 2, Clovis allegedly texted his doctor, Brenner, and said, his pain levels had shot up and his legs were increasingly numb:

“I have little control over my legs at all. I don’t see how we are going to get me back on my feet if we continue with pain and such the way it is. Looking forward to some insight.”

According to court records, Brenner replied he was going to be out of the office the next day but would “try to touch base” with Clovis’ rehabilitation doctor.

Clovis reportedly texted back: “I’m not a doctor but this smacks of nerve damage. We’ve got to do something. I’m getting to where I can’t take it much longer.”

Brenner responded that this “kind of thing is in (Stadvold’s) realm of medicine.”

On June 3, Clovis allegedly texted Brenner again: “Horrible day yesterday. Pain now both sides of rib cage in both rhomboid areas. So bad I almost passed out. I had to talk them out of sending me to the emergency room. Whatever we’re doing isn’t working … Not getting better. We have to do something.”

The next day, Brenner examined Clovis and, according to court records, opted to continue the current treatment plan.

On June 5, Clovis allegedly texted Brenner: “Cannot use my legs. Cannot stand up … Something has to be done.” Later that day, he was readmitted to St. Luke’s/UnityPoint Health. MRIs performed over the next two days pointed to an abscess and the urgent need for surgery, which was performed immediately.

Expert: ‘Clovis would still be walking today’ if not for errors

One of Clovis’ proposed expert witnesses in the trial, now scheduled for October 2023, recently summarized his findings in a sworn statement filed with the court, alleging that over a six-week period the defendants had “numerous” opportunities to conduct a neurological evaluation of Clovis and had failed to do so.

“Had that occurred before June 1, 2019, it is my professional opinion as a board-certified neurosurgeon that Sam Clovis would still be walking today,” Dr. Christopher Lycette said in his sworn statement.

Another expert witness for Clovis, neurocritical care specialist Dr. Kenneth Stein, stated under oath that the defendants’ failure to properly diagnose and treat Clovis led to severe and irreversible spinal cord injury.

After finishing second to Joni Ernst in the 2014 Republican Senate primary, Clovis served as one of the national co-chairs of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and he later became a senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his 2014 Senate bid, Clovis called for tort reform and said that, along with the interstate sale of health insurance, would “lead to a 50 percent reduction in the cost of health care.” At the time, he said tort reform hadn’t been enacted yet because it would “essentially gut the trial lawyers’ association and how they make all their money.”

In 2014, after his failed Senate bid, Clovis ran for Iowa treasurer. He secured the GOP nomination but lost to incumbent Democrat Michael Fitzgerald in the general election.

In June 2016, six months into the Trump administration, the president nominated Clovis to serve as a USDA undersecretary. Later that same year, Clovis withdrew from consideration for the appointment amid controversy over his involvement in the Trump campaign’s pre-election ties to Russia.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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