DENVER - She had a system, one carefully calculated to feed her addiction. As a surgical technologist, Kristen Parker helped set up the operating room and organize supplies and equipment in the operating room.
She also swapped drug-filled syringes intended for patients with used syringes filled with saline or water. The used needles then passed on to patients were contaminated with hepatitis C.
Two years ago this month, Parker was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The judge in her case called her actions "incomprehensible and unconscionable." The judge was especially disturbed that Parker continued to claim she didn't know she had hepatitis C when she was stealing the painkillers.
Thousands of patients were tested for exposure to hepatitis C. Three dozen tested positive. Multiple lawsuits were filed against hospitals and several doctors as well.
Once the legal process begins, lawyers tell their clients to reserve comment.
"You can't talk to anybody. You can talk to your psychiatrist, if you have one, your priest, your spouse and your attorneys," Dr. Sherry Gorman said.
Gorman has been quiet for nearly five years. Now that her case is over, she believes it is time to tell her side of the story.
Dr. Gorman got news of the suit against her several months after Kristen Parker was caught.
"As a doctor, the last thing you want to do is do anything that ends up harming your patient or even be involved, even if it's not your fault, in something that ends up harming a patient," Gorman recalls.
She remembers the sickening feeling she had when she read the allegations made in the suit.
"It will be a part of me forever. I know it's not true, but it was just unbelievably hurtful," she said.
Kristen Parker had told investigators that while setting up the operating room for surgery she would watch the anesthesiologist get the medications together and lay them out. Parker explained, when the room was empty she would go back into the OR and switch out the syringes.
"My drugs were never sitting out right on top of my cart; they were always in a drawer hidden underneath equipment, and I felt like that was safe," Gorman adds.
During the deposition phase of her case, Gorman was asked a series of questions about drug diversion and whether she had a duty to prevent it. She expressed her belief that was not her duty; her duty was to protect her patient. In one response, she called drug diversion an urban legend or folklore. Those comments were later used in a newspaper article.
"They're looking for you to spit out words that will eventually hang you and unfortunately they found a couple there, and I think it was very devastating," Gorman said.
Gorman was in the process of settling her lawsuit when that newspaper article came out.
"I read the article. I remember saying to my father, 'I look awful. I look mean and reckless and ignorant,' and his comment was, 'yeah you do.' When your dad says that, you know it's true," she said.
Gorman told her lawyers she wanted to go to trial. Expert witnesses were prepared to testify on her behalf. She was eager to protect her reputation and tell her story. However, months passed and the pressure continued to build. After talking to her family Gorman decided a trial wasn't worth the strain she was putting on her family and herself. Her case was settled. She can't talk about the terms.
Throughout this process she found another outlet to release her frustration and tell her story, without using her own name. She wrote a book. It is called "It's Nothing Personal." Dr. Gorman used the pen name Kate O'Reilley. Her book tells the story of an anesthesiologist facing a lawsuit after a scrub tech at her hospital steals narcotics and injects them into her veins and returns contaminated syringes to the operating room. Sound familiar? http://kateoreilley.com/.
Dr. Gorman says writing brought her to a better place and by telling her story, she hopes she will encourage other doctors going through a similar experience. Several policies in the OR have changed since Kristen Parker's conviction. Automated medication machines are in place too, to better track and dispense medication. Many, many lives were impacted by the actions of one person.
"We've all lost a little bit of innocence, but hopefully in spite of that we've become a little bit smarter along the way too," Gorman adds.