By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer
A Stark County woman is accusing her gynecologist of burning her internally by spraying her with a mislabeled bottle that contained a chemical used in drain cleaner.
In a lawsuit filed recently in Summit County Common Pleas Court, the woman alleges Dr. John Black caused permanent damage by spraying her with a chemical from a bottle labeled “vinegar” during an internal exam to identify potential cancer cells.
Diluted vinegar typically is used in the procedure, known as a colposcopy, to help doctors look for signs of cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva, according to the suit.
But during an exam in May 2012 in Black’s office at Paragon Health Associates, the patient felt extreme pain and burning within seconds after the solution from a bottle with a handwritten label was sprayed into her, according to the malpractice suit.
The doctor then poured some of the solution into a cup, put it in his mouth and quickly spit it out, yelling that it burned, according to the complaint.
The patient alleges the liquid inside the spray bottle was not diluted vinegar as labeled but potassium hydroxide. The poisonous chemical — used in drain cleaners, cuticle remover products and leather tanning chemicals — causes burning and severe pain to exposed skin, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The woman asked in the lawsuit not to be identified because of the “potentially stigmatizing and embarrassing nature” of the case. The Beacon Journal is not naming her for those reasons.
In a response filed in court late last month, the defendants denied wrongdoing and asked for the case to be dismissed.
D. Cheryl Atwell, a Cleveland attorney who is representing Black and the medical practice, said the doctor was acting appropriately when he used a substance labeled as vinegar during the common gynecological procedure.
“The use of vinegar in this procedure is absolutely appropriate and I don’t believe anyone is disputing that,” Atwell said. “She has acknowledged that the bottle that was utilized was labeled vinegar, so we believe it was absolutely appropriate for him.”
Atwell said it’s unclear how the wrong substance ended up in the spray bottle.
“That is something we are obviously researching as part of the litigation, but it absolutely was not Dr. Black who filled a vinegar bottle,” she said. “… How the wrong product was in the vinegar bottle, we don’t know.”
The patient was notified that the substance used during her exam was not vinegar and told to go to a local emergency room, which was contacted by the practice to help with her care, Atwell said.
But in the lawsuit, the woman claims the practice didn’t provide appropriate care after the incident and told the emergency department personnel the wrong pH level for the substance sprayed inside her.
The 39-year-old patient alleges she continues to experience pain and will require further surgical procedures, including a hysterectomy, as a result of the incident, according to the suit. The couple, who have two sons, say they were planning to have more children.
In the lawsuit, the woman said the chemical burns also have left her with irregular bleeding, prolonged and painful periods, numbness, inability to have sex and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The woman and her husband are seeking damages from Black, Paragon Health Associates and other unidentified employees of the practice.
The woman’s attorney, William Carlin, declined to comment on Thursday.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.