Surgical Resident Says Hospital Banned Her From Returning After Paralysis
Dr. Svetlana Kleyman, a surgical resident at State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center who became paralyzed, is pursuing legal action after allegedly being barred from returning to her training.
Kleyman, in the fourth of her fifth-year residency, was serving as chief resident at the Brooklyn Veteran’s Hospital when she suddenly fell ill with what she thought were flu symptoms. In January 2014, within days of returning home to Indiana for her first vacation in a year of 16-hour workdays, Kleyman was placed in intensive care.
“I ran 10 miles a week or two before I was on the ventilator,” Kleyman told the New York Post. Months after being paralyzed from the waist down, Kleyman was told the culprit was a spinal infection.
After an extensive rehabilitation period, doctors cleared Kleyman to return to her residency at SUNY Downstate. Daniel Kaiser, Kleyman’s laywer, told The Mighty, the institution was at first cooperative, but relations quickly soured.
“She got the runaround for a period of time,” Kaiser said. “They kept ignoring the requests, kept delaying having to respond and then ultimately responded with, ‘We don’t have the clinical capacity to accommodate you.’”
Kaiser and his client say SUNY is legally obligated to retain Kleyman for the entirety of her five-year residency, and its failure to do so constitutes disability-based discrimination.
“The hospital has never explained what a ‘lack of clinical capacity’ means,” Kaiser said. “She had very few cases that she would have to complete in order to permit her to graduate … It is likely simply an excuse that the hospital came up with to justify not bringing her back into the program.”
“They didn’t want to deal with her paralysis, they didn’t want to deal with having to accommodate her, for example, in the operating room,” he continued. “The law requires them to provide that accommodation. We are confident that we will demonstrate the disability discrimination.”
Kaiser said that SUNY is due to respond to Kleyman’s complaint by June 3, the first step in a series of legal maneuvers leading to scheduling a trial. Kleyman, who is currently working in a research position at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is still paying off her medical-school loans — which, according to the Post, amount to $250,000.
Kleyman’s case against SUNY is an especially strong one, according to Kaiser:
It is a classic kind of case that the disability laws were designed to address. It is disability discrimination in its purest form. She suffered from a significant physical impairment, but not one that prevents her from doing her job. The hospital may not want to deal with it, for reasons of inconvenience or for reasons of outright prejudice, having a visceral reaction to the disability… but they have to. That’s what the law requires.
I am confident that ultimately either they will take her back or we’ll prevail with the litigation that will force them to take her back.”
The State University of New York denied The Mighty’s requests for comment.
UPDATE 5/26/16: An online petition protesting former surgical resident Svetlana Kleyman’s situation has garnered nearly 27,500 signatures. Dr. Pamela Wible, a family physician and activist for medical student and physician suicide prevention, started the petition through social enterprise website Care2 and plans to deliver it to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) tomorrow.
“I started this Care2 petition to help Svetlana complete her surgical training and to send a message to the ACGME and all residency programs that discrimination is not only illegal but intolerable in the 21st century,” Wible told Care2 in a press release. “Doctors-in-training must be protected from human rights violations. Our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools should uphold the highest standards of treatment for all.”
In the press release, Kleyman, 31, added that as chief surgical resident, she had been in “excellent standing” with SUNY Downstate prior to her paralysis.
“I was unfortunate enough to get ill during my fourth year of residency and fought extremely hard to be able to come back and finish my training,” Kleyman told Care2. “SUNY Downstate led me on for months, then did not allow me to resume my residency training. I have done nothing wrong, and I deserve to have the opportunity to finish my training and become a breast surgeon like I have always wanted to be.”