Doctor details girl’s internal damage in father’s trial

  • Dr. Doruk Ozgediz draws a diagram of an abdomen for the jury in the trial of Christopher Conley as prosecutors watch. STAFF PHOTO/MICHAEL CONNORS

  • Christopher W. Conley of Northampton listens to testimony during his trial for attempted murder and other charges in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2020 11:49:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When Christopher Conley’s 7-year-old daughter was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital in April 2015 for a fever and abdominal pain, Dr. Doruk Ozgediz testified Friday, her affliction didn’t require emergency surgery.

But two days later the girl’s condition worsened, he told a Hampshire Superior Court jury. To make things worse, he said, a CT scan showed a large buildup of fluid in the girl’s abdominal cavity — a “striking” discovery.

“She was in a very life-threatening situation at the time,” Ozgediz said under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Linda Pisano. “I was very concerned about her.”

Conley, 37, of Northampton, is on trial for attempted murder, accused of trying to kill his already ill daughter by poisoning her with drain cleaner in April 2015. Ozgediz was the doctor who performed two surgeries on Conley’s daughter after the alleged poisoning, one on her intestines and the other on her bladder.

Jurors witnessed a video earlier this week in which Conley admitted to police he injected Liquid-Plumr in her daughter’s cecostomy tube — an implanted tube used to flush the intestines — to put her out of her suffering from medical issues. But Conley’s attorney, Mark H. Bluver of Greenfield has said this was a false confession made after the state Department of Children and Families took custody of his child, and that her injuries were from natural causes, not drain cleaner.

Ozgediz was only 20 minutes into his testimony when a juror fainted, causing Dr. Ozgediz to jump off the witness stand to help the juror amid the confusion. After the woman was taken by paramedics and excused from the jury, Judge Richard Carey said the woman suffered from a prior medical condition and had regained consciousness.

Bluver motioned to declare a mistrial, saying Ozgediz’s “heroic” act had biased the jury in evaluating him as a witness. Carey polled each remaining juror and decided they remained competent, and testimony resumed after an hour. 

Ozgediz detailed the surgery he performed on Conley’s daughter on April 15. During the surgery, he removed 190 centimeters of dead small intestine, as well as a third of her large intestine that was dead.

“A lot of it was damaged beyond substantial recognition,” he said.

He said there were seven liters of fluid removed from her abdomen, which he said was “more clear and odorless than many other cases I’d seen.” A drain was inserted to help remove the rest of the fluid from the abdomen, he said.

Ozgediz said he collaborated with geneticists, gastroenterologists, pathologists and other professionals to come up with a medical explanation for her condition, but they had none. Soon after, urine started to come through the drain, which caused another surgery, he said. Inside the girl, Ozgediz said he found that a third of her bladder was already dead and had a hole.

Asked what his medical opinion was of the cause of damage to Conley’s daughter’s intestines and bladder, Ozgediz stated he believed they were caused by a chemical injury. Intestines, he said, have thicker walls so a corrosive liquid could take days to burn through to her abdominal cavity.

He also explained there wouldn’t have been any fluid left in her abdomen after it was flushed, but her bladder still could have died from the resulting inflammation from the chemical. 

In his cross-examination, Bluver asked Ozgediz about medical reports and notes from the days before the girl’s first surgery that said Conley’s daughter was in good spirits and not in any distress.

Bluver referenced a review of the girl’s symptoms, which said she didn’t have abdominal pain. Ozgediz pushed back, citing a written note on the same report that said the girl felt pain over the site of her cecostomy tube.

In another record, Bluver said, Conley’s daughter was “happy and talkative … taking rides in [a] wheel-chair in [the] hallway. Does that sound like someone who has Liquid-Plumr running through her stomach, sir?”

Ozgediz noted she had abnormal vital signs and replied, “Yes, a patient can look like this and have a caustic substance injected into their intestine.”

Bluver asked Ozgediz about the multiple medical records in which Conley’s daughter gave pain ratings before her first surgery, in which there were many entries of zero. Ozgediz pointed out there were some records that indicated she had pain over her cecostomy tube.

“The assessment of pain is an ongoing and dynamic assessment by multiple providers at different times,” Ozgediz said.

Ozgediz also said that dead tissue could be caused by a lack of oxygen, but that Conley’s daughter had a strong pulse. 

Asked if he noticed any other damage during surgery caused by the alleged drain cleaner, Ozgediz said he had noticed inflammation of the abdominal wall but not to other organs. 

“I had the opportunity to, unfortunately, re-operate on this patient numerous other times,” Ozgediz said. “That entire cavity was scarred like leather. Way beyond what you would see for a routine intestinal perforation.”

Ozgediz is expected to return for further testimony on Monday.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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