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2 more lawsuits planned against VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System over Legionnaires' deaths

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:09 a.m.
John McChesney, 63, of Columbus, Warren County, who died October 23, was a patient at the VA Oakland. VA officials told his family that it’s likely he contracted Legionnaires’ disease in the facility in September.

Families of two more veterans who died after contracting Legionnaires' disease say they plan to sue the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

John W. McChesney, an Army veteran who served 18 months in Vietnam and was wounded in battle, likely contracted the disease at the VA Oakland in mid-September, said his family's lawyer, William Schenck of Butler. Schenck said he intends to sue on the family's behalf.

Sandy Riley, 60, of Swissvale, sister of Lloyd “Mitchell” Wanstreet, said she is “going to pursue legal action.” Wanstreet, 65, of Jeannette died in the VA Oakland facility on July 4 after an extended stay at the Heinz campus in O'Hara.

A Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Oakland and O'Hara hospitals in 2011 and 2012 sickened as many as 21 patients, five of whom died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The families of all five have either hired or are talking to lawyers, and one, the family of William Nicklas, 87, of Hampton, filed notice of their intent to sue.

VA spokesman David Cowgill declined to comment.

McChesney, 63, of Columbus, Warren County, was admitted to the VA Oakland for a heart catheterization on Sept. 17 and discharged Sept. 20. He was admitted for follow-up testing on Sept. 26 and left Sept. 27, Schenck said. But on Sept. 30 he developed a fever, felt weak and began coughing up blood, Schenck said.

McChesney checked into the VA hospital in Erie, an urgent-care facility.

“They saw how very sick he was,” and transferred him to St. Vincent Healthcare System in Erie, Schenck said. Doctors at St. Vincent “found Legionella in his urine very quickly.”

McChesney's health deteriorated, Schenck said. He suffered respiratory and cardiac arrests, and eventually required a feeding tube. He died of end-stage renal disease — which occurs when a person's kidneys stop working — on Oct. 23, Schenck said.

Family members, including his wife, Evelyn, met with VA Pittsburgh officials on March 15 for a disclosure meeting mandated by VA regulations. The VA has scheduled similar disclosure meetings through mid-May with anyone who likely or definitely contracted Legionnaires' in one of its hospitals. Most of the meetings are completed.

At the McChesneys' meeting, Chief of Staff Dr. Ali Sonel did most of the talking, Schenck said.

“They acknowledged that it was a very high probability that he obtained it at the VA facility in Pittsburgh,” Schenck said.

Federal rules say the family must wait six months for the government to respond to the intent to sue once it is filed. If the government's response is a denial of the claim or an attempt to resolve the dispute, the family can move ahead with filing litigation in federal district court.

Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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