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Spencer Sullivan: His Body a Prison

Spencer Sullivan balances a pre-surgery photograph of himself on his chest. Once a nurse himself, Spencer, 48, is now a quadriplegic and requires round-the-clock care. Click to see an audio slideshow (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times)

He was once the handsome entrepreneur in the fading newspaper article on his bedroom wall – a former nurse running a temporary nurse agency.

Today Spencer Sullivan, 48, spends his days in a wheelchair at his Laguna Hills home. In 2001, after neck surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center, two doctors gave similar orders for powerful medications. Instead of questioning the duplication, a nurse gave Sullivan all of the drugs, then didn't check on him as required, state records allege. After suffering a brain injury, Sullivan was rendered quadriplegic.

In the chaotic months that followed, his brother Shane filed a complaint with the state Board of Registered Nursing. The family sued the hospital and eventually settled for $6 million. The case was again reported to the nursing board in 2005, this time by insurers, who attributed $2.4 million of the settlement to temporary nurse Rose McKenzie's actions.

"It's shocking how they never contact you. They never say the nurse was disciplined – nothing," said Sullivan's mother, Carol. "It just makes you wonder, is she out there somewhere taking her job so lightly?"

In April 2008 – 6 1/2 years after the brain injury – the board filed an accusation against McKenzie. She did not respond, and her license was revoked. She's now a nurse in Canada.

"It makes me sad what she did to me," Spencer Sullivan said. "It's like being in jail."

Click to see an audio slideshow about Sullivan

Photo by Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times. Click to see audio slideshow

Portrait of Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber is a managing editor at ProPublica. Previously, Weber was a deputy managing editor and senior reporter covering health care issues at ProPublica and, before that, she reported for the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Orange County Register.

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