Former Albuquerque Journal columnist and Corrales resident Jim Belshaw died as a result of a flubbed diagnostic test performed at University of New Mexico Hospital in 2020, alleges a lawsuit filed against the hospital, UNM Health Services and the UNM Board of Regents.
Belshaw, known for his folksy, funny but fiercely opinionated columns during a more than 30-year career at the Journal, died Oct. 15 at his home in Corrales at age 78.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by his widow, Elizabeth “Liz” Staley in state district court, alleges that a flexible catheter was lost during a cerebral angiography performed on Belshaw in December 2020. The procedure involves injecting a dye into the blood vessels of the brain to show up on X-rays and is used to diagnose abnormalities, like plaque build up in blood vessels and aneurysms.
The lawsuit alleges the errant catheter resulted in brain hemorrhaging that subsequently led to Belshaw’s death.
A UNM Health and Health Sciences spokesman provided the Comment with a statement saying patient safety was their highest priority.
“We are reviewing the allegations made in this complaint and will work through the judicial system for an appropriate resolution,” the statement said.
The lawsuit states that after the angiography Belshaw complained to a nurse that he couldn’t hear and lost all sight in his left eye and most of the vision in his right eye. He experienced vomiting, imbalance and was unable to hold his head up.
“Mr. Belshaw saw no doctor and no other healthcare provider and was discharged by the nurse that day being wheeled out to his wife’s waiting car with no explanation provided to him or her about what happened regarding the procedure or imaging that resulted in his altered condition,” the complaint states.
The family actively tried to get more information from the hospital but to no avail, it says.
“Mr. Belshaw actively sought out information to explain the serious harm he was experiencing … but no one at UNM provided any truthful explanation of what occurred,” the complaint states.
It wasn’t until weeks later that Belshaw received a Christmas Eve phone call from a neurologist telling him that a catheter was lost during the procedure and that the damage done to his brain was permanent.
In addition, the suit alleges that failing to properly document the events of Belshaw’s procedure in 2020 was “an intentional spoliation or alteration of evidence.”
An Air Force veteran, Belshaw began working at the Journal in 1974 after graduating from UNM with a degree in journalism. He left for a two-year stint as a Public Information Officer at the university, but then returned to the Journal.
“On rejoining the Journal, he stayed on and on, an early riser who relished exploring the lives of both little known and better known New Mexicans, a story teller with a distaste for bullies, a lover of poker and, after retirement, a frequenter of of Corrales’ Hannah and Nate’s cafe,” the Corrales Comment wrote following Belshaw’s death.