Dr. Terry Millette Singing River Health System
Dr. Terry Millette Singing River Health System

Jackson County

This Coast doctor diagnosed patients with a crippling disease they never had, lawsuits say

By Margaret Baker

mbbaker@sunherald.com

January 10, 2018 10:01 AM

Pascagoula

Lawsuits are piling up against ousted Singing River Health System Dr. Terry Millette over allegations he misdiagnosed patients with multiple sclerosis and treated them for the disease they never had, court records show.

So far, seven of the neurologist’s former patients are suing him and SRHS for negligence and are seeking compensatory damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses and other issues arising from unnecessary treatment for the disease.

One of the lawsuits also names as a defendant Dr. Rance Wilbourn, who initially diagnosed one of the plaintiffs with MS before Millette took over her care and diagnosed and treated her for the disease.

All of the lawsuits are filed in Jackson County Circuit Court.

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Millette and SRHS have denied any wrongdoing.

“I think it’s noteworthy that Dr. Millette — despite all that’s happened — denies that he misdiagnosed any patient with MS,” his attorney Stephen Burrow, of Pascagoula, said Tuesday. “In fact, the hospital in its answers to the complaint has firmly stated that Dr. Millette was not negligent in diagnosing any patient with MS.”

SRHS and Millette in its answers maintain the patients received the standard level of care at all times.

MS is a disorder of the central nervous system that results in weakness, numbness, loss of muscle coordination and problems with speech, vision and bladder control. The disease is thought to be an autoimmune disease.

Attorneys began filing the lawsuits in late 2017. The hospital system abruptly closed Millette’s office and terminated his SRHS contract in November 2016. At the time of Millette’s departure, SRHS issued a statement saying the decision to end Millette’s contract with SRHS and close his office resulted from questions about Millette’s diagnosis and treatment of MS patients.

The contract termination became final after SRHS conducted its own review of the doctor’s medical activity as it pertained to patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

After Millette’s termination, many of his patients went to Jackson County supervisors to say SRHS mishandled the action against Millette.

Millette has said he felt the split was personal. He is now in private practice.

Popular neurologist, Dr. Terry Millette, talks with the Sun Herald for the first time since he left Singing River. Video by Karen Nelson/Sun Herald klnelson@sunherald.com

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‘It’s pretty upsetting’

Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman is representing several of Millette’s former patients. He called the erroneous diagnoses “shocking.”

“The hospital is the one that started getting the inquiries about why there were so many multiple sclerosis cases so the hospital system did an independent review and then wrote letters to each of our clients telling them they did not have MS,” Holleman said Monday. “As you can imagine, it’s pretty upsetting in and of itself to be diagnosed with MS to begin with and then you find out you went through all of this treatment — some of it is severe — for nothing. That’s hard for the patient to understand.”

Holleman hopes to “at least sort out how that occurred” in addition to recouping the damages due to his clients as a result of the harsh treatments that result in serious side effects and the high medical costs they’ve endured as a result.

William Deaton and his wife, Michelle, question why Singing River Health Systems removed Dr. Terry Millette from their practice and worry about what will become of the care for his multiple sclerosis.

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The lawsuits

A glance at the lawsuits pending against Millette and SRHS:

  • Barbara and Stan Treadway are suing for unspecified compensatory damages as a result of Barbara Treadway’s erroneous diagnosis of MS and subsequent treatment. According to court papers, Millette made the diagnosis after conducting an “eye test” in 2011. In 2014, court papers say, Millette told Barbara Treadway he “thought” her MS was in remission and suggested she stop taking at least one of her MS medications. In December 2016, SRHS arranged for Barbara Treadway to see a neurologist in Mobile, who determined she had never suffered from MS. The suit is seeking monetary damages for medical bills, physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress.
  • Cassandra and Patrick Lawson are alleging Millette was negligent when he performed an “eye test” on Cassandra Lawson and misdiagnosed her with MS in July 2010. The suit says Cassandra Lawson suffered physical and emotional pain due to the treatments, which included the surgical placement of a port to administer the MS medications to her. The treatments, court papers say, eventually caused Cassandra Lawson to suffer from petit and grand mal seizures. In 2016, another neurologist evaluated Cassandra Lawson and determined she had never suffered from MS. The couple is suing for unspecified compensatory damages due to medical bills, mental anguish, emotional distress and physical pain and suffering.
  • Susan and Ted Speaker are alleging Millette was negligent when he misdiagnosed Susan Speaker with MS in 2013. In 2017, another neurologist evaluated Susan Speaker and determined she had never suffered from MS. The couple is suing for unspecified compensatory damages due to medical expenses, physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and the loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Laura and Charles Lovelace are seeking unspecified compensatory damages as result of Laura Lovelace’s misdiagnosis of MS in 2010. In 2017, another neurologist determined she had never suffered from the disease. The couple is alleging negligence and is seeking compensation due to medical expenses, physical pain and suffering, emotional distress and mental anguish.
  • Gwendolyn and Derek Clayton are alleging Millette misdiagnosed Gwendolyn Clayton with MS in 2010. In 2016, another neurologist evaluated her and determined she had never suffered from MS. The couple is suing for an unspecified amount of compensatory damages due to medical bills, mental anguish, emotional distress and pain and suffering.
  • Christine Tingle and Mike Tingle are seeking unspecified compensatory damages due to Millette misdiagnosing Christine Tingle with MS in 2011. Christine Tingle underwent treatment for MS until late 2016, when SRHS suggested she undergo an evaluation for MS. The second neurologist determined Christine Tingle had never suffered from MS. The couple is suing for compensation due to pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical bills and mental anguish.
  • James Roberts III was misdiagnosed with MS in 2010. He is alleging Wilbourn and Millette were negligent when they both diagnosed him with MS and treated him for the disease. In August 2017, a Mobile neurologist evaluated Roberts and determined he had never suffered from MS. He is seeking unspecified compensatory damages due to medical expenses, physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost wages and the loss of enjoyment of life.

Among patients who spoke out on behalf of Millette, Gail Millette, a pharmacist and Terry Millette's sister-in-law, told county supervisors there are more problems with the way SRHS treats people and doctors.

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Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45