Posted on Mon, Jan. 20, 2003
Woman sues doctor's estate 23 years after misdiagnosis
By James Boyd
of The News-Sentinel
News-Sentinel photo by Steve Linsenmayer

Misery of misdiagnosisTwenty-three years ago, Norma Bowling was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After years of being confined to a walker, a wheelchair and even bedridden, it was determined that she has been suffering from a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Bowling now wants someone to take responsibility for the years of anguish she's been through.

HUNTINGTON - She used to think everything was a lot shorter. Tables, people, even the number of years she had left in her life.

It wasn't until recently when Norma Bowling got out of her wheelchair and walked for the first time in nearly six years that she noticed it.

How she wound up in that wheelchair remains a mystery buried in the Catholic Cemetery - in the grave of Dr. Stanley Wissman.

Bowling is suing for what she claims in court records is medical malpractice, a misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis. After many years it was determined she has been suffering from a vitamin B deficiency.

Bowling first noticed numbness on the right side of her body in 1980. The assembly-line worker, now 62, went to the doctor, who thought she had a lower back disk problem and recommended she go to the hospital. There, the doctor said, she would also see a neurologist.

What her doctors then told her was the most devastating news she had ever heard. Her doctor, Wissman, believed Bowling was showing signs of multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor.

"It wasn't very good news either way you look at it," she said.

According to Bowling, Wissman believed her symptoms were related to a neurological problem, which he later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. Wissman put her on medication, but as Bowling said, "I didn't get much better."

She wasn't getting better because she didn't have multiple sclerosis.

A new diagnosis

"I should have been happy, but I wasn't," Bowling said of the 1998 MRI that failed to confirm the multiple sclerosis. Instead doctors found she had been suffering, for the past 18 years, from a B-12 vitamin deficiency. The diagnosis was described as "negligent care" in the lawsuit filed by her attorney, Jim Mellowitz.

"I was angry," Bowling said after learning she had spent a good share of her life held captive by a walker or wheelchair and by what she calls a misdiagnosis. That anger has led to the lawsuit against Wissman's widow, Mary Ann, who represents Stanley Wissman's estate, Allied Physicians Inc. and the Fort Wayne Neurological Center.

Attorneys for the widow, physicians group and center could not be reached for comment as of deadline. According to court records, the defendants recently made a motion for a protective order requiring Bowling to pay doctors for treatment.

Bowling initially filed suit against Dr. Wissman, but after his death in May 1999, she named Wissman's widow as a defendant.

The case is scheduled for a jury trial in Allen County Superior Court in July.

Life changes

"I lost control of my life," she said.
For 12 years Bowling was in and out of the hospital, planning her life around the availability of family to help with even the smallest tasks.

Between 1992 and 1997, the pain and loss of mobility kept her bedridden. Barely able to get out of her wheelchair, she said she passed the time by watching movies.

By the spring of 1998, Bowling had lost almost everything: bladder control and feeling in her hands and feet. She said she took a shower one day and spent several minutes trying to wash her feet, only to realize she was wearing socks.

She lost one other thing, too. Her will to live.
She didn't want to eat or drink. She couldn't move. She couldn't attend any of her 21 grandchildren's events.

"I was ready to die," she said.

Getting better

But a new treatment started to change all that.
The improvements didn't come immediately. At first, she could hardly tell the difference.
The new treatment was prescribed after tests were ordered by Wissman's colleague, Dr. Fen Lei Chang.
Chang, who had never met Bowling before April 1998, ordered an MRI and a B-12 test. Bowling's lawsuit claims she never had an MRI done before, despite it being the "preferred test for multiple sclerosis since 1986." Bowling was started on B-12 injections, which she continues today.

Although she now can walk, Bowling said she'll never again walk the way she used to, move the way she used to, or live the way she used to.

She said she now wants a jury to agree someone made a mistake in 1980 and for someone to take responsibility for the years of anguish she's been through.

In her lawsuit, Bowling also is seeking damages from pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages and medical expenses.