Health

Thursday, Dec 06 2012 08:00 PM

The stroke, not the delay, incapacitated Harb, brain surgeon testifies

BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

The blood vessel that exploded deep in the brain of Dr. Mohamad Harb in 2007 would have caused major and irreversible damage, regardless of whether or not his emergency transport to the hospital was delayed by police, by a Hall Ambulance paramedic or by both.

Such was the testimony Thursday from Visalia neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Hoyt, an expert witness for the defense in the Harb family's $25 million lawsuit against the city of Bakersfield and Hall Ambulance.

According to more than two hours of testimony from the 61-year-old brain surgeon, once the intracerebral hemorrhage occurred as Harb drove his Mercedes westbound on 24th Street, it was "not fixable."

On the contrary, Hoyt told the jury, once the bleed happened, it left Harb, a pediatric intensive care specialist, with "one of two options:

"Either death or the condition he is in today," Hoyt said.

The 62-year-old Harb's condition today reflects a dramatic decline from the husband and father of four who for years cared for critically ill babies at Kern Medical Center.

Since the medical emergency on Nov. 24, 2007 that caused him to lose control of his car -- and where he was handcuffed by police and made to wait for a second ambulance after the first left without him -- Harb has required help with virtually every daily activity.

As the defense begins presenting its case after weeks of testimony by plaintiff's witnesses, it's becoming apparent that the high-stakes trial may ultimately be reduced to a battle between the paid expert witnesses on either side.

For example, Hoyt's testimony Thursday was completely contrary to testimony provided last week by Oxnard neurosurgeon Dr. Cary Alberstone, who told the jury Harb likely would have been able to return to practicing medicine had his ride to the hospital, and subsequent treatment, not been delayed.

Both neurosurgeons have been paid handsomely for providing their expertise, with Alberstone charging $8,000 for his day of testimony and Hoyt receiving some $27,000 for both his time in court and the dozens of hours he said he spent poring over depositions, physicians' reports and other documents.

In his cross-examination of Hoyt, plaintiff attorney Thomas Brill suggested several times that Hoyt was going a step further than simply providing expert testimony by acting as an advocate for the defense.

But Mick Marderosian, who is representing the city and former Bakersfield Police officer Claudia Payne, objected each time, and each time, Kern County Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw sustained Marderosian's objection.

Later in the cross-examination, when Brill suggested Hoyt was looking toward Marderosian before answering, Bradshaw called both teams of attorneys into his chambers for a "sidebar" discussion.

The off-the-record discussions have occurred many times during this sometimes-tense trial.

In another instance of paid expert witnesses bringing polar-opposite opinions to the proceedings, police practices consultant Curtis Cope testified Thursday that Bakersfield police in general, and Claudia Payne in particular, acted well within established professional standards in the way they handled the incident involving Harb.

Cope's testimony ran counter to that offered earlier in the trial by another expert on police procedures called by the plaintiffs.

When questioned about the decision to handcuff Harb, who reportedly was behaving bizarrely at the scene, Cope was in clear support of her actions.

"I found that to be very reasonable," he said, "for the circumstances she was facing."

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