HAMMOND — A Lake County Superior Court jury awarded a Griffith woman $3 million Wednesday after ruling that a Munster cardiologist recommended an unnecessary surgery in 2006.
Gloria Sargent sued Dr. Arvind Gandhi for pain and suffering for recommending a heart device she says she didn't need. The eight-person jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday before delivering the verdict.
"He preyed on my client," Sargent's attorney, Barry Rooth, said in his closing argument. "He sold her this device."
Sargent is also suing Community Hospital in Munster, claiming the facility allowed Gandhi to perform the surgery without the proper credentials. The second phase of the trial, to determine whether the hospital is liable, begins Thursday.
Gandhi, who retired in 2015, faces claims from hundreds of former patients that he performed unnecessary surgeries. Sargent's case is the second to go to trial. The first concluded last month in the doctor's favor.
Sargent, who had a history of heart problems, went to see Gandhi in 2006 after moving to Northwest Indiana from Florida. He recommended she upgrade her heart device, even though she had just had one implanted months earlier. She agreed to the procedure.
In the first operation, Gandhi attempted to insert the new wiring to her heart but was unsuccessful in finding a vein. So he referred her to another surgeon, who performed an open chest surgery. Sargent says she was awake during that 98-minute procedure, experiencing so-called anesthesia awareness, unable to move or talk despite being in extreme pain.
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She contended that her heart problems could have been corrected by adjusting the settings on her old pacemaker, done by waving a wand over her chest. Rooth noted that all of the doctors who testified as expert witnesses in the trial, even those on behalf of Gandhi, said they would have done the adjustment rather than surgery.
But Rooth said that implanting the new device brought in a lot more money than waving the wand, and that doing so ensured she would have to come to multiple follow-up appointments in Gandhi's office.
Gandhi's attorney, David Jensen, argued in his closing argument that nothing in the law in Indiana prevents doctors from making judgment calls.
"The law doesn't tell physicians how to practice medicine," he said.
He said Sargent was well-informed about the heart device she was getting, having discussed it in an online forum and with a previous doctor. He noted that Gandhi was not in the room for nor played a role in that second surgery.
But Rooth pointed to testimony by Gandhi in which he said, "I never gave her the choice," to go home after the first failed procedure.
"The doctor must always put the patient's interests ahead of his own," Rooth said. "Not this time."