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April 21, 2014

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Family of former Catholic Charities CEO files wrongful-death lawsuit

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Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada CEO Monsignor Patrick Leary died on Dec. 7, 2012. Leary served as a Catholic priest for 36 years and as the CEO of the non-profit since 2003.

When the Clark County Coroner’s Office told Lynne George that her brother Monsignor Patrick Leary, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, had died, she wanted answers.

George was told there wouldn’t be an autopsy since her 63-year-old brother’s death wasn’t suspicious. He had died alone in his home.

Still, Leary’s death didn’t sit right with George or her brother. They pushed for an autopsy and the coroner obliged.

What they found out is now the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 16 in Clark County District Court, contends Leary likely would not have died in December 2012 had his doctor been more attentive.

Leary had a history of high blood pressure when, on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, he went to the emergency room at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals - Siena Campus. His heart rate was extremely low, he was nauseated and his leg and chest hurt, according to the complaint.

Dr. Tressa Naik gave Leary some medication for the nausea and sent him home with instructions to follow up with a doctor in two to four days, according to the complaint.

Later that night, after being discharged, Leary died of an undiagnosed tear in his heart.

As the siblings’ attorney Douglas Cohen puts it, “He went home and his heart blew apart.”

The lawsuit contains analysis by Dr. Raymond Ricci, vice chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif. Ricci maintains Leary’s symptoms were “highly suggestive, if not classic, for acute aortic dissection.”

Had Naik taken appropriate notice of the symptoms, Leary’s heart problem would have been caught and he would have had a substantial chance for survival, Ricci wrote.

The defendants, Naik and her employer, Emergency Medicine Physician Partners, have filed a response denying the lawsuit's allegations without elaborating.

Naik said she couldn’t comment because doing so would violate patient confidentiality law and because the litigation was ongoing.

A spokesman for Emergency Medicine Physician Partners said the company did not comment on ongoing litigation.

“Our mother taught us to treat everyone the way we would like to be treated,” George said, when explaining the siblings’ decision to sue. “We don’t want anyone else to unnecessarily suffer.”

It’s a loss that left the family without its favorite storyteller, the one family members could count on to remember their history.

In 2001, right before the Learys’ mother died of Lou Gehrig's disease, she asked Patrick Leary to take over as head of the family. It was a role he approached with the same care and joy that made him beloved by those in Nevada, his siblings said.

After Leary’s death, there was an outpouring from the community. George said she received a handwritten note from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid expressing his condolences.

The community had counted on him and, even though the siblings were spread out across the nation, so had the family, said George, who lives in San Francisco.

It’s something she’s reminded of as she prepares to spend her first Thanksgiving without her brother.

On the holiday, Patrick Leary would help Catholic Charities hand out meals in the morning. Afterward, he would catch a late-afternoon flight to San Francisco to join his sister’s family for dinner.

“Our lives will never be the same,” George said.

Patrick Leary’s brother Michael Leary, who lives in Buffalo, N.Y., said he couldn’t stop thinking about what his brother must have experienced the night of his death.

That it appears his brother missed out on having a fighting chance to survive is both devastating and frustrating, Michael Leary said.

“Had he died on the (operating) table, that would have been one thing,” Michael Leary said. “It’s just tough. He should be here.”

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, unspecified damages and attorneys' fees.

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