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When Caregivers Harm / Spencer Sullivan

Lives ruined--and worse

Imprisoned in his own body

July 12, 2009

He was once the handsome entrepreneur in the fading newspaper article on his bedroom wall -- a former nurse running a temporary nurse agency.

Today Spencer Sullivan, 48, spends his days in a wheelchair at his Laguna Hills home. In 2001, after neck surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center, two doctors gave similar orders for powerful medications. Instead of questioning the duplication, a nurse gave Sullivan all of the drugs, then didn't check on him as required, state records allege. After suffering a brain injury, Sullivan was rendered quadriplegic.

In the chaotic months that followed, his brother Shane filed a complaint with the state Board of Registered Nursing. The family sued the hospital and eventually settled for $6 million. The case was again reported to the nursing board in 2005, this time by insurers, who attributed $2.4 million of the settlement to temporary nurse Rose McKenzie's actions.

"It's shocking how they never contact you. They never say the nurse was disciplined -- nothing," said Sullivan's mother, Carol. "It just makes you wonder, is she out there somewhere taking her job so lightly?"

In April 2008 -- 6 1/2 years after the brain injury -- the board filed an accusation against McKenzie. She did not respond, and her license was revoked. She's now a nurse in Canada.

"It makes me sad what she did to me," Spencer Sullivan said. "It's like being in jail."

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