CHARLESTON -- A Kanawha County couple is suing a Charleston physician for hand injuries.

On April 24, 2009, Jefferson Hightower was drilling a piece of metal and suffered a small puncture wound just below the nail bed of his left middle finger, according to a complaint filed Feb. 28 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Hightower claims he was treated for the wound by his family physician and although the wound healed, the finger remained tender because there was a tiny bone chip beneath the surface of the skin, so he was referred to Dr. Phillip D. Surface, an orthopedic surgeon.

On June 11, 2009, Surface performed surgery to remove the bone chip, according to the suit, but following the procedure, Hightower developed problems with severe pain and swelling around the surgical area, according to the suit.

Hightower claims he and his wife, Andrea Hightower, called Surface's office on at least seven occasions and reported the problems, but that despite the obligation to timely respond to their concerning reports of post-surgical complications, Surface's staff advised that Jefferson Hightower did not need to be physically assessed until his post-operative visit scheduled for June 23, 2009.

Surface's staff responded by merely offering different pain medications and on one occasion, informed Jefferson Hightower that if he felt the bandage had become too soiled, he could change it, according to the suit.

On June 17, 2009, after having no relief of the pain and swelling, the Hightowers claim the called Surface's office again and spoke to his physician assistant, who advised them to loosen the bandage, which provided some relief.

The next day, Surface finally returned a phone call made by the Hightowers and instructed Jefferson Hightower to remove the bandage, let the swollen finger sit for a couple of hours and then call him back and advise as to the status of the finger, according to the suit.

Jefferson Hightower claims he removed the bandage as instructed and immediately called Surface and informed him that the wound was red and swollen with black tissue. He claims Andrea Hightower then advised Surface that she was taking her husband to the emergency room.

Surface responded that he "had not and would not commit to meeting the Hightowers in the emergency department, and he would only come to the emergency room if the emergency room physician deemed it necessary," according to the suit.

The Hightowers claim that the emergency room physician ultimately called Surface to come to the emergency department.

After examination and removal of some of the stitches, Surface requested Jefferson Hightower to come to his office the following morning, according to the suit. During the office visit, Jefferson Hightower requested a referral for a hand specialist, which Surface did not feel was necessary, but did so anyway.

The Hightowers claim when they visited with the hand specialist in Louisville, Ky., Jefferson Hightower was examined and admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with superimposed osteomyelitis.

Jefferson Hightower had to undergo additional surgical procedures, including bone removal, shortening of the finger, fusing of the joint and placement of two K-wire pins, which remained in his finger for many months, according to the suit.

The couple claims Surface failed to protect Jefferson Hightower's safety, failed to timely recognize and treat his signs and symptoms and failed to meet with them upon the first complaints of problems.

The Hightowers are seeking compensatory damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. They are being represented by William M. Tiano.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Louis H. Bloom.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 11-C-330

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