Wisconsin Author Nearly Dies At Hands of 2 Doctors On Same Day; Court Add's Emotional Insult To Injury, Requests Jail Term For Wounded Patient
by Dustin Alexander-Pérez, Metro News West Investigative Journalist
Originally published Thur., 2 March 2017 | 5:00 P.M. PT
Updated, Tuesday, 2 October 2018 | 10:00 P.M. PT
WHITEWATER, WI - A Wisconsin man was threatened with arrest and ordered to pay $5,000 in damages after a pair of doctors nearly caused his death and left him permanently disabled. Supporters have launched a crowdfunding campaign to provide for the injured man’s ongoing medical expenses and create an emergency fund to help offset the lost wages he has incurred as a result of his injury.
Thomas Hapka, 48, of Whitewater, graduated from University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and was an IT professional just hours from flying to New York to start his dream job. But, a last-minute stop at a local chiropractor's office turned Hapka's dreams into a medical nightmare that ended his plans and also nearly ended his life.
Hapka suffered a Bow Hunter's Stroke when his chiropractor used too much force during an “adjustment”, tearing the vertebral artery in Hapka’s neck. “Tom told me it felt like his world immediately began to spin wildly out of control as if the Earth had snapped off its axis. He toppled to the office floor, frightened, uncontrollably dizzy, and unable to stand or walk,” recalled Kathy Hapka, the injured man's sister.
According to medical records Metro News Milwaukee obtained, Hapka’s condition continued to deteriorate as the chiropractor repeatedly massaged and manipulated his neck in an effort to correct his grave error. Medical professionals later determined this could have completely severed the damaged artery and killed the injured man instantly. Eyewitness accounts claim the chiropractor then left Hapka on the floor incapacitated and in the care of a young receptionist with absolutely no documented medical training. Witnesses say frightened patients began leaving the chiropractor's office.
“Chiropractors are bound by duty to diagnose medical conditions that require attention. A chiropractor can be held liable for failing to diagnose or improperly diagnosing a patient’s medical condition if a reasonable chiropractor would have done so,” said an anonymous legal source, who is a retired personal injury lawyer that didn't want to go on camera for this interview, but was willing to discuss this case anyway. “It's indescribable that anyone calling themselves a medical professional would leave one of their patients in that desperate situation!”
According to 9-1-1 records obtained by Metro News Milwaukee, Paramedics weren’t called until two hours after Hapka's injury occurred. When Hapka was finally transported to a local emergency department, that is when Kathy Hapka states her brother's nightmare would truly begin. The attending physician, who had a rather lengthy documented history of malpractice, reportedly refused to examine Hapka for more than an hour.
Family members report the doctor had Hapka wheeled into a secluded hallway and left unattended with no explanation. Hospital records obtained from that day list only one other patient in the emergency department and more than enough staff on duty to be able to have assisted Hapka further.
Metro News Milwaukee requested a statement from the unnamed hospital’s former administrator, but never received a reply.
When the emergency department doctor finally examined Hapka, doctors MNN spoke with said the doctor in question clearly overlooked the obvious signs of brain trauma, inexplicably failed to order a brain scan and ultimately misdiagnosed Hapka with an ear infection. Hapka, who was seriously injured, was instead sent home with a dangerously swollen, bleeding brain and medications that only worsened his condition.
More than 48 hours later, Hapka’s mother realized her son wasn’t sick; Shirley Hapka realized her son was in fact dying. He was rushed back to the same local emergency room where a different doctor ran further tests. Unbelievably, those results were misread and Hapka's family was told he had a large tumor near his brain stem. Medical records clearly document a second incorrect diagnosis Hapka received at this emergency room in less than 48 hours.
It wasn’t until Hapka was admitted to a regional medical center that doctors finally diagnosed the life-threatening brain injury and confirmed it was most likely caused as a result of the chiropractor’s manipulation.
Hospital records obtained report Hapka was now very close to death. Hapka's family maintained a vigil at his bedside for days as he drifted in and out of consciousness as doctors speculated if he would survive.
Hapka was eventually sent home to be cared for by elderly parents and face his new reality. His sister said, “Tom was suffering from debilitating dizziness, severe vertigo attacks that would strike without warning several times per day, incredible anxiety, and poor coordination. Things like taking a bath, dressing himself, or making a sandwich were suddenly Herculean challenges he wouldn’t be able to overcome independently for months.”
Hapka’s sister, Kathy, remembers the struggles Hapka faced after he came home from the hospital. “We all felt so defeated,” Hapka said. “Just days earlier, Tom was an athletic, healthy person with a really bright future. But after the injury, he was helpless. His career, his independence and his exciting new life in New York were all gone.”
Unable to work and with medical expenses mounting, Hapka filed a lawsuit against the chiropractor who injured him and the hospital that misdiagnosed him. That effort added to his family's emotional trauma and was seen as a miscarriage of justice by many close to the case.
Hapka’s home state had recently changed their medical malpractice laws making it nearly impossible to sue a doctor, hospital, or even a chiropractor. A well-known judge who recently passed away who presided over the case in Walworth County District 2 Circuit Court, ruled against Hapka despite documented, conclusive proof that the chiropractor had injured him and the delay in care caused by the botched emergency room diagnosis had worsened his brain trauma.
“Most injuries stem from negligent manipulation of the body. The lion's share of feasible chiropractor malpractice cases I've seen implicate tears of the vertebral and carotid arteries from inattentive handling,” said the confidential legal source. “In Mr. Hapka's case, a chiropractor made adjustments to the patient’s body that either caused new injury or made a pre-existing injury worse. It's very clear there was nothing wrong with Mr. Hapka when he entered the office that day.”
Hapka was home-bound with severe vertigo from his brain injury on the day of the proceedings and the court granted him permission to appear by phone. However, the judge abruptly changed his mind and threatened to have Hapka arrested for not appearing in court. He also ordered Hapka, who was disabled, weak and unemployable, to pay $5,000 in damages.
Hapka's sister spoke with Metro Today's host in a televised interview. "This was a shocking miscarriage of justice," Kathy said. "My brother was nearly killed by two doctors in one day, his care was repeatedly delayed and his life was shattered. It's appalling that there was no justice for him and he's now disabled, financially ruined and left without any stability.”
MNN's confidential legal source said, “There are some truly bad chiropractors out there that need to be held accountable. Unfortunately, Wisconsin laws have so many clauses that completely screw injured patients. It's not fair and nobody is doing anything about it.”
Today, Hapka still suffers from crippling episodes of dizziness that leave him incapacitated for hours or days at a time. This, coupled with severe PTSD, makes it impossible to hold down a regular job and he needs rehab not covered by his health insurance.
Hapka’s elderly parents drained their retirement savings and took out a second mortgage to cover his immediate care expenses so there will be no inheritance. Hapka is in danger of being homeless when his parents die because of a lien the county put on their house when his father needed nursing home care.
Supporters have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help provide for Hapka’s ongoing medical expenses and other needs. A benefit for The Hapka Family will be held Saturday, October 6, 2018 at Willow Brook Golf Course (formerly Whitewater Country Club). Admission is free and there will be several raffle prizes as well as hors d'oeuvres and cash bar available. It is family-friendly and takes place immediately after the UW-Whitewater Warhawks game at Perkin's Stadium. Hall of Fame Coach Bob Berezowitz and current UW-W Coach Kevin Bullis will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures with football fans. Visit LifeBeyondBrainInjury.org for complete details.
EDITORIAL UPDATE: Sadly, Thomas Hapka's father passed away in December of 2017. Just weeks earlier, Tom's uncle passed away also. As of this update, in October 2018, Shirley Hapka, Tom's mother, has incurred several long-term illnesses and continues to physically deteriorate. Tom remains unable to hold a steady job due to his ongoing neurological symptoms and he is still in need of any support that can be offered.
DISCLAIMER: MNN has been covering this story and developing its content since July 2016. This is an ongoing journalistic investigation. This story was written and presented to the public based on facts that Metro News Network and our affiliates have been able to verify and a timeline of events that has been corroborated by witnesses to the events as well as signed, sworn affidavits therein. If anyone has any information regarding this case or story as presented, please contact the editor.
Dustin Alexander-Pérez is an investigative reporter for Metro News Network in Los Angeles and the host of the syndicated network radio talk show “Metro Today NewsTalk” on Metro America Radio.