Soon after 78-year-old Ottomar A. Schramm died at Easton Hospital following an unprescribed, toxic dose of the heart medicine digoxin, a male nurse tried to talk his family members out of ordering an autopsy.
Christina Toth told Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek of the incident on March 3, 1999 -- two months after her father died on Dec. 31, 1998 -- because it had been "bothering her."
The new detail is contained in additional coroner's records of the investigation into Schramm's death obtained by The Morning Call on Tuesday.
Male critical-care nurse Charles Cullen, 43, of Bethlehem faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder in two deaths at Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, N.J., and has been named the only suspect in Schramm's death.
"[Toth] explained that when her father did pass, that they requested that an autopsy be performed due to the elevated levels of digoxin and that the male nurse attempted to talk her out of having the autopsy performed," Lysek wrote in an addendum to his report on Schramm's death.
The autopsy and toxicology testing would later confirm that digoxin contributed to Schramm's death.
In his notes of the March 3 discussion with Toth, Lysek wrote that Toth said she probably could not identify the male nurse, who was working on the fourth floor where her father was when he died, and that she wondered if he was the same nurse family members had seen wheeling her father away two days earlier in the emergency room.
Lysek wrote that he told Toth he would forward the information to internal investigators at Easton Hospital to determine the identity of the nurse, and his role in her father's care. Lysek has said that investigation failed to determine who injected the digoxin.
On Tuesday, attorneys representing Schramm's family requested a preliminary injunction freezing the assets of the Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation -- the last vestige of the nonprofit corporation that ran Easton Hospital at the time -- until all claims relating to Cullen are resolved.
A hearing on the injunction request is scheduled for Jan. 9.
Donald Auden, Two Rivers' general counsel, said he doubts the injunction will be granted.
Auden said Two Rivers Hospital Corp., which exists primarily on paper, is the name of the entity that represents the former ownership of Easton Hospital. The Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation, which supports community health initiatives, represents the former Easton Hospital Foundation.
Determining whether the foundation and its $16.2 million in assets are fair game in the Schramm lawsuit may become an issue in the case.
"The foundation is the sole member of the hospital corporation," Auden said. "But they are separate legal entities."
For-profit Community Health Systems of Lexington, Ky., purchased Easton Hospital in 2001.
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