Doctor cleared in former Celtics star's death

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The Independent Online

A doctor who told basketball star Reggie Lewis he had a "normal athlete's heart" two months before the Boston Celtics star died while shooting baskets was cleared in court on Monday.

Jurors in a lawsuit filed by Lewis' widow were asked to decide whether cardiologist Gilbert Mudge provided Lewis with substandard care and whether negligence caused the player's death.

The lawyer for Lewis' widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, said he has not decided whether to appeal. Neither Harris-Lewis nor Mudge was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.

"She'll never get over the loss of her husband, and the children will never get over the loss of their father," lawyer Neil Rossman said.

The verdict comes more than seven years after Lewis first collapsed during an NBA playoff game, and 11 months after a different jury failed to reach a verdict on Mudge's culpability. The previous jury did exonerate two consultants.

In a statement read by Mudge's lawyer, William Dailey, Mudge and his wife thanked the jury and said they felt no ill will toward Harris-Lewis.

"We wish them peace and comfort as we all move along from this place," the statement said.

Lewis, 27, collapsed during a 1993 playoff game, and doctors diagnosed the problem as a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Unhappy with the diagnosis, Lewis and his wife walked out of the hospital and eventually went to Mudge.

Mudge said Lewis had a benign fainting disorder and would eventually be able to play basketball "without limitation." But on July 27, Lewis collapsed at the Celtics' practice facility and died.

Mudge contended that even though he said publicly Lewis could eventually resume his NBA career, he had not ruled out a heart problem. He also cautioned Lewis to take his medication and not exert himself - instructions his patient ignored, Mudge said.

Mudge also said his ability to diagnose Lewis' condition was hindered because the player had concealed a history of cocaine use. The judge had instructed jurors not to consider whether drug use hastened Lewis' death.

Rossman said the one victory for Harris-Lewis was that drugs were not an issue in the trial.

A spokesman for the Boston Celtics said the team would not comment on the verdict.