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Legal Reasons For Sealing Medical Records

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First my question, then the background facts:

Question: I live in Houston, Texas. My brother and I have been trying to get copies of surgical and post-surgical notes for our father and have been repeatedly denied by his current wife. We recently were in a position to obtain them and found that the files had been sealed. With that in mind, what are the legal methods of sealing medical records, why are medical records sealed, and who has authority to seal them.

Background: My father and biological mother divorced after I granduated from College (1987). My father re-married in October 1996. My father had a history of clogged carotid arteries and had survery once before to clear them. In late October 1997, he was informed that he would have to have them done again so he made arrangements. The surgery was done by Denton Cooley's team in the medical center in Houston. The first side went well and dad went home with no problems. He went in for the second and that is where our nightmare starts. He stroked once during surgery, according to the surgeons, but apparently it was put under control.

Dad was put in cardiac IC for observation but was having trouble moving the right side of his body when we last saw him (wednesday evening). The next day, we got a call from the hospital informing us that dad had massively stroked again during the night and that we had better get in there quickly. It turns out that dad suffered MAJOR brain damage as a result of the second stroke and was formally pronounce brain dead on Friday, Novemeber 7, 1997. We had to pull life support and watch him die. It was the most dreadful day of my brother's and my life as we were very close to our father. Our dad has 5 grandkids (3 from my brother and 2 from me) that also loved him dearly.

At the time, we thought it was just an unfortunate turn of events and the death was a risk of the surgery. However, shortly after the funeral (November 10, 1997), we essentially found out that deaths from this type of surgery are quite rare and that this type of surgery is done all the time. The reason we found out is that we also have access (through a mutual friend) to another prominent cardiac surgeon in the medical center. He was told of the incident and he asked several questions about the procedure and steps that were taken and we could not answer him. He was also very puzzled upon listening to what we knew. As a result, he graciously volunteered to read and explain the surgical and post-surgical notes to us once we obtained them. So we started on our quest. We were told that we did not have a right to see the records but that only his wife had the authority to grant release of the information. we of course were upset but we were currently fighting with her for what little estate was left. You see that, contrary to hers and his public statements to anyone who would listen that what was my dads would stay my dads and what was hers would stay hers after the marraige, it turns out that dad switched the benificiary information from us to her and he did not have a will. His main estate consisted of stock in the company he worked at and other retirement type financials (which my brother and I were made beneficiaries as part of the divorce decree from our biological mother). We were not fighting that stuff because, as it turns out in Texas, blood children have no rights to that stuff if there is no will. We found that out the hard way as well. What we were fighting was for what was left that his wife wanted to keep for herself and her daughters. Yes, we are still somewhat bitter and my brother still will not go to the grave site where my father is buried. The painful part is that we accepted this lady as part of the family. Anyway, I have digressed a little but I feel the background is important as I think you will see.

My brother and I decided that we would complete the probate stuff and then ask my dads wife for permission to release the medical records. We told her what we had found out from our cardiac surgeon freind but she said that she wanted to put it behind her and try to move on. During the course of the remaining estate settlement talks, we informed both our attorney and her attorney as to what we had found and BOTH attorneys agreed that we should pursue it. Her attorney even told her directly (while we were in her presence) that there was no reason why she should not give us the authority to get the records. She still would not budge. We wrote her several times asking over and over again for permission to release the records but to no avail.

Two years has passed since we buried our father and, for the most part, we have gotten over the pain that it all caused. I have not even begun to go into the pain and anguish we went through for almost a year to get the remaining estate settled. Recently, I was in a position to obtain the records by a kind-hearted person who happened to hear our story and was in a position to obtain them. What they found was that the records had been sealed.

When we first started this odyssee, we were told that sealing of medical records meant that some sort of settlement was in progress or had been made and the records were sealed as part of the agreement. What we were also told was that, if there were any settlement as a result of any medical malpractive, that my brother and I, as his blood decendants have a legal right to share in those proceeds. What we have found is that we do not exist as far as the law is concerned and we have no legal rights. My dads wife did not talk with us or our children after the funeral and has not talked with us since. She informed us through her attorney that we were not to come around her property and that we had to hire movers to obtain what little we were able to obtain through settlement. In short, she has treated us as thorns in her side since she found out she was getting the bulk of our fathers estate (potentially several million dollars although we cannot and will not ever know). The level of betrayal felt by his side of the family is beyond description. As I said earlier, we loved our father dearly and were NEVER on bad terms with him. He lived near both my brother and I and he used to come visit us, help us with projects around the house, give us advice, you know, all the stuff that fathers do with their sons. My dads friends cannot understand it as they all told us how he wanted his grandkids to go to college and how he personally was going to see to it that they had the chance.

We want to know what happened to our father and feel we have the right to know as his blood decendants. We are in the process of hiring an attorney to help us, if we have any recourse that is. It has been over two years and we still do not know what really happened. Maybe everything was done that could be done for him, and that is OK. But we smell a rat.

I am currently trying to research the subject myself so I can fully understand what is going on. Therefore, any help would be greatly appreciated.

As stated earlier, we live in Houston Texas. I will be happy to supply other information as required and if needed. I will tell you that my wife and I went to our personal estate attorney and made sure that our sons would not have to go through what my brother and I went through.

Again, thanks for any help you can provide.



sue the doctor for malpractice and you will get the records as your fathers second wife did

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