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Maple Valley Doctor Goes Extra Mile to Save Patient

December, 2009

An Idaho woman who moved there from Maple Valley, WA was involved in a motor vehicle accident, charged with driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident, found herself incarcerated for several weeks in an Idaho jail, without bail. The 30-year-old mother of two young children was able to get a message through her family members for her Washington physician, Dr. Dale Alsager, a pain specialist and family practice physician from Maple Valley. Upon hearing of her circumstances, Dr. Alsager, at his own expense, flew to Boise and presented critical evidence to the judge that the most probably cause of the accident was hypokalemia, a medical condition caused by vomiting and dehydration resulting in low serum potassium, and not alcohol or drugs. Raelyn Haggett, a long-time patient of Dr. Alsager had visited the Maple Valley clinic just before leaving for Idaho. Dr. Alsager, a few days later, noted the low potassium on her routine preventive health profile blood draw, taken the same day she departed for Idaho. Meanwhile, Ms. Haggett and her children had returned to their new home in Idaho.

The accident occurred when she was returning a borrowed truck to her grandparents a few miles away in the evening, when she lost consciousness and crashed into another vehicle on a country road. After the crash, she woke up in her vehicle, saw there were no significant injuries, and drove to a nearby store for help. The police, arriving at the scene “assumed” intoxication by her staggering and slurred speech, and took her to jail.

“Hypokalemia” is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by low potassium in the blood,” says Dr. Alsager. “It results from taking certain kinds of blood pressure medications, or, as in this case - days of nausea, vomiting and dehydration. It causes a patient to become disoriented, lose consciousness, slur words and act like they are drunk. Unless blood tests are done, law enforcement officials can erroneously conclude drugs or alcohol.”

Dr. Alsager had forwarded her medical records by fax to the medical staff at the jail, but they failed to take action. Dr. Alsager rescheduled a day of patients to board an airplane to provide evidence on behalf of his patient at her sentencing hearing. Dr. Alsager’s testimony provided the court with important evidence of her medical history and condition. She was released on probation with orders to obtain appropriate and immediate medical attention in Idaho.

“This case underscores the inadequacies of our current healthcare system,” laments Dr. Alsager. “Had Ms. Haggett been able to find smooth transition to a physician of like practice in Idaho when she arrived, none of this would have happened. Without universal health insurance coverage, pre-existing chronic medical conditions continue to make it virtually impossible to find appropriate medical care when people relocate, change jobs or change insurance. Hopefully, American citizens will put enough pressure on our congressmen and senators to bring about important changes to our current healthcare system” says Dr. Alsager.

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