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Family of Detained Stroke Victim Sues

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- A Bakersfield surgeon handcuffed and forced to wait more than an hour for treatment after suffering a massive stroke last year is suing the Bakersfield Police Department, Hall Ambulance, the county of Kern and others.

The case could cost taxpayers millions in damages.

The November 2007 incident represents a series of monumental blunders by police -- who may have believed Dr. Mohamad Harb was intoxicated -- and paramedics -- who should have overruled police and immediately taken Harb to a hospital, said Steven Gibbs, the attorney representing the doctor and his family.

The stroke has left Harb unable to practice medicine. The 58-year-old neonatal intensive care specialist and sole provider for his wife and four children spent two months in a coma before waking to a life in which he had to learn how to feed himself again, Gibbs said.

City and county officials said they haven't had a chance to review the lawsuit. A spokesman for Hall ambulance did not return calls for comment.

Harb was driving home that autumn evening after finishing a 12-hour shift at Kern Medical Center when his Mercedes suddenly veered off 24th Street, according to the lawsuit.

Bakersfield police arrived minutes later to find Harb still wearing his surgical scrubs. He was disoriented, had urinated on the sidewalk and vomited on his shirt.

Harb was given two alcohol breath tests, both of which registered zero.

Medical tests later showed Harb had suffered a life-threatening stroke, yet the first Hall ambulance crew called to the scene left, according to the company's own reports, leaving Harb sitting on the curb drooling, his eyes glazed, one shoe off and lying in the gutter.

Registered Nurse Mehgan Coffey was passing in her car when she recognized Harb. She pulled over, identified herself as an RN and told police she had spent the entire day working with Harb.

At her insistence, a second ambulance was called to the scene.

An incident report by a Hall employee suggests the first crew couldn't evaluate Harb because he was in handcuffs.

But Coffey and veteran paramedic Mike Danaher said paramedics must insist on taking critically ill patients to the emergency room, even when police are reluctant to cede control.

"Police are looking to you for information," he said. "There is no way I would let a police officer take that patient."

Though not connected to the possible delay of treatment, the county was added to the lawsuit, alleging KMC personnel applied pressure to the Harb family to essentially pull the plug on Dr. Harb.

The family also believes Harb's confidential medical information was disseminated to non-treating physicians.

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