The husband of a 40-year-old woman who died at St. Luke's Hospital in February 2002 while Charles Cullen worked there as a nurse has filed notice that he will sue St. Luke's, Cullen, Easton Hospital and Liberty Nursing Center in Northampton County Court.
Debra A. Shachter of Bushkill, Pike County, was a wife, a mother of three young girls, a gospel singer and sometimes a teacher of handicapped children, said her husband, Steven.
She is the first St. Luke's patient to be named in connection with the investigation of Cullen, who has said he killed as many as 40 patients at nine hospitals and one nursing home in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during his 16-year career.
Shachter entered St. Luke's Hospital, Fountain Hill, to have a benign brain tumor removed, came through the surgery well and was awake and alert but succumbed two days later, said the family's attorney, Kelly Rambo.
''They felt everything was very positive, and she had a sudden, unexplained cardiac and respiratory arrest,'' Rambo said.
The family has learned Cullen worked at the hospital in the area where Shachter was treated, Rambo said, and that the hospital's own medical records showed it could not explain the cause of her cardiac and respiratory problems.
''Their records reflect that they were puzzled,'' Rambo said. Nonetheless, no autopsy was done, she said.
Though there is no laboratory evidence, Rambo said Shachter's symptoms indicate poisoning by digoxin, a drug Cullen is accused of administering in overdoses to two patients at Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, N.J., in 2003. The Rev. Florian Gall died at the hospital. Jin Kyung Han survived but later succumbed to cancer. Cullen has been charged with murder and attempted murder in the two cases.
Rambo, whose Easton law firm, Cohen & Feeley, also represents the family of 78-year-old Ottomar Schramm, a patient who died after a digoxin overdose at Easton Hospital in December 1998, said Shachter's case was referred to her recently by Stroudsburg attorney John B. Dunn.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has said Cullen is the sole suspect in Schramm's death.
Rambo said the Shachter family is suing Easton Hospital's current and former owners and Liberty Nursing Center because they employed Cullen before he worked at St. Luke's and could have given St. Luke's information that would have prevented his hiring.
She said her firm has been approached by the family of a second person who died at Easton Hospital whose name has been pointed out to investigators by the hospital's former owner.
Rambo said she could not release the patient's name but said he had been admitted to the hospital for testing in 1998, and his stepdaughter reported her concerns to Easton Hospital soon after Cullen was charged last month in Somerset County.
Steven Shachter said his wife was in otherwise good health when she entered St. Luke's.
''My wife was in exceptional health, exceptional,'' an emotional Shachter said in a phone interview from his Bushkill home, where he is recovering from surgery and caring for his daughters twins who are 5 and one who is 7.
Besides Cullen and St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, the civil action names Easton Hospital; its corporate parent, Community Health Systems Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.; its corporate identity, Northampton Hospital Corp.; its former owner, Two Rivers Hospital Corp.; the former owner's surviving nonprofit, Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation; Liberty Nursing Center of Allentown; and the nursing home's corporate identity, HGCC of Allentown Inc., as defendants.
Rambo said she did not add Lehigh Valley Hospital as a defendant because she had no concrete indication it was aware of any problems with Cullen at the time.
Susan Schantz, spokeswoman for St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, and Two Rivers Hospital Corp. attorney Donald Auten said they had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Liberty Nursing Center could not be reached for comment.
Reporter Joe McDermott contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times