Family hopes new law will hold Navy accountable for son’s death

On the two-year anniversary of their son’s death, the family of a Navy Hospital Corpsman, who died following routine shoulder surgery, hopes a new law will help them hold the Navy accountable.

“He trusted who was in charge of him,” said Suzi Way. “And that’s what killed him.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jordan Way, 23, was a pharmacist at Twentynine Palms Naval Hospital in California when he underwent shoulder surgery on Dec. 12, 2017.

He was found dead four days later.

“How does a 23-year-old that had shoulder surgery and has done everything that the doctors have asked him to do,” asked his mother, “how does he die?”

Way’s surgeon prescribed an increasing dose of the powerful painkiller Oxycodone, according to an internal investigation. Over a four-day period following his surgery, Way took 82 pills as directed and prescribed, records show.

The doses were monitored by his shipmates.  

“The medication that the doctors prescribed was killing him and he was slowly dying that night,” said Suzi, describing the last time she talked to her son, which was the night before he died. “And his friends had no idea because they all trusted the doctors. And my son went to sleep and he died.”

His parents say their son was over-prescribed and discouraged from returning to the hospital for follow-up treatment.

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“It’s, ‘Keep taking the medicine. You haven’t really taken opioids before. Don’t be that guy. You don’t want to come back to the ER,’” his mother said Jordan was told. “‘Come on, you’re not one of those guys.’”

The autopsy listed his cause of death as “opioid toxicity.”

The Way family say they spent more than a year trying to find out what happened to their son. They had to file a Freedom of Information Act request, they said, to learn the disturbing details.

The family says Way’s shipmates were told not to talk to them.

“He did everything he was supposed to do,” she said. “He took the pills as he was supposed to take them.”

His father, Dana, is former law enforcement. He says he knew what questions to ask but would not get any answers.

“Our questions have always been how and why did our son die?,” he said. “And what are you doing to prevent this from happening to someone else’s loved one?”

Because of the Feres Doctrine, which prevents military lawsuits against the government for medical malpractice, the Way’s say they were told there was nothing they could do. However, legislation sparked by North Carolina Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, which is expected to be signed into law this week, could soon allow the family to seek justice and hold the Navy accountable for military medical malpractice.

Under the provision, included in the National Defense Authorization Act, $400 million will be allocated to the Department of Defense to internally investigate, and pay out malpractice claims, made after January 2017. If signed into law, it would allow the family to receive compensation for the deadly mistake.

“It’s about holding professionals accountable,” said Dana, who says their fight for justice is about holding negligent doctors accountable. 

The Way’s traveled from their home in Maryland to Washington, D.C. on Thursday to meet, and thank, Stayskal, his wife, Megan, and FOX 46. The family said they appreciate Stayskal’s efforts to change the law.

Stayskal and the Way’s are both represented by attorney Natalie Khawam, who has been a fierce advocate against the Feres Doctrine and a champion for soldiers who have been wronged by military medical care.  

“We’re looking forward to being able to help all the service members and our military that have suffered from medical malpractice and negligence,” said Khawam. “I’m looking forward to telling all those people, ‘You finally have a voice and you have your day now.’”

Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms Statement

"Our thoughts and heartfelt condolences remain with Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jordan Way's family and friends. Petty Officer Way was a valued member of our team, a friend, and a shipmate. Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms is a close-knit community and we were deeply saddened by his loss.

While Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms (NHTP) cannot share any information related to the care and treatment of patients due to HIPAA, privacy laws, and quality assurance statutes, we can tell you that, in accordance with our continuing accreditation by The Joint Commission, all events involving death or serious injury are reported to The Joint Commission for review under their sentinel event policy with the goal of increasing general knowledge about these events and contributing factors as well as developing strategies for prevention. We are committed to providing the best care possible to our patients, a responsibility we don't take lightly." 

This story was reported on from Charlotte, N.C.