Retired Marine Col. William Tyra thought he would have been able to find some closure when an Army report found three officers and a former commander at Walter Reed Army Medical Center at fault for his daughter's death.
But, Tyra says, his fight goes on because the Army has not held anyone truly accountable in his daughter Katie's death. Katie was a healthy sophomore at Hayfield Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., when she went to Walter Reed in April 1998 to have a benign cyst removed from her neck.
"I told her that she was going to the hospital where the president goes, and she had nothing to worry about," said Tyra, Katie's father, on ABC News' "Good Morning America."
However, Katie never made it into surgery. Instead, minutes after kissing her parents goodbye -- after Michael Hamner, an anesthesiologist, gave her the antibiotic clindamycin -- Katie went into cardiac arrest. Hamner administered more than a dozen drugs in an attempt to revive her. But she never regained consciousness and died 12 days later.
Conviction, But Still Allowed to Practice
Tyra thought his daughter's death was suspicious and pressed for an investigation. He retired from the service so that he could file a civil lawsuit. (Members of the armed services are prohibited from suing the government.) The Army settled a civil case for $1 million.
A report by the Army inspector general's office in October found evidence of a cover-up, and a botched investigation, and hospital officials have admitted to the findings.
Hamner, a captain in his third year of residency at the time of Katie's death, lied for months about how much clindamycin he had given her and how quickly, the investigation found. He pleaded guilty at a 2001 court-martial to falsifying statements and was found guilty of dereliction of duty. However, Hamner was acquitted of negligent homicide in Katie's death.
Hamner faced up to 26 years behind bars, but was not sentenced to prison. He was dismissed dishonorably from the service, but was not barred from practicing medicine. The board of directors of the American Board of Anesthesiology's said it has concluded that "there is not a basis to revoke the subject physician's board certification."
Despite the Army inspector general's findings, Tyra believes that the Army has not held anyone accountable because the people involved in the cover-up and botched investigation can continue their careers, and Hamner is still allowed to practice medicine.
"It's outrageous," Tyra said. "Would any family want a doctor to treat their child who has been criminally convicted on six felony counts and dishonorably discharged for misleading the resuscitation of a child?"
Former Marine Feels Betrayal
The inspector general's report focused on four other people: Maj. Byron Edmond, Hamner's immediate supervisor; Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Mair, Katie's surgeon; Thomas Pennington, the now-retired Army colonel selected by Walter Reed's top commander to look into the case; and retired Col. Frederick Erdtmann, who was the head of Walter Reed at the time of Katie's death. The report found "a willful failure" on the part of Edmond to ensure that Katie's medical records were accurate and complete.
It also said there was "a preponderance of evidence" that showed that Mair had improperly altered Katie's records after her death so that it appeared she had received significantly less clindamycin. It also said Pennington had "improperly failed to ascertain and consider the evidence on all sides of each issue and that he knowingly made false oral or written statements to other military authorities. Erdtmann was cited for failing to "take appropriate actions" after Hamner's admission of his mistakes.
Tyra, who is now an American Airlines pilot, said that he feels betrayed by the Army because of the way officials handled the investigation and the punishment of the doctors in his daughter's case.
"As a Marine Corps officer, accountability is very important," he said. "In the Marine Corps, [when] we have instances such as this, we don't go at the lowest level. You go to the top to find out what happened. As an airline pilot, we believe accidents don't happen. There has to be a reason and the investigation, in this case, was just shocking."
Widespread Cover-Up in Medical Profession?
Frank Spinner, Hamner's attorney, would not say whether his client is still practicing medicine. But he said he considers the investigation into Katie's death closed.
"I just don't understand at this date why the Tyras are still pursuing this the way they are," Spinner said. "All the doctors have moved on with their lives. They regret very much what happened but this was a complex case and situation."
"Everyone is trying to move on with their lives," Spinner continued. "The Tyras received a $1 million settlement in this case. Dr. Hamner paid his price. He was convicted of making false statements, but I believe it's time to move on."
But Tyra said he is not moving on until he sees the people responsible for his daughter's death and investigation cover-up held fully accountable.
"Does Michael Hamner still have his board certification? Yes, he does," Tyra said. "Have the other officers been held accountable? Not a chance. It's [accountability] been delayed because it's endemic in the American medical profession to cover up and lie about practice and that's what I want to change."