Cynthia Herald, MD: Trial Testimony Differs As Promised
By Scott Sandlin / Journal Staff Writer | Thu, May 30, 2013
As they promised on Day 1, attorneys in the hostile workplace and retaliation case filed by a female former anesthesiology resident against the University of New Mexico have delivered testimony wildly at odds with one another.
The ex-resident, Dr. Cynthia Herald, alleges she was raped by a male resident a year ahead of her in the program during an unplanned, off-campus visit to his home with a girlfriend, and that she was then punished by university officials when the assault was reported to them. They have acknowledged that they did not conduct an independent investigation, but said her unwillingness to make a police report constrained them.
Herald was terminated from the anesthesiology program in June 2010.
Top brass in the UNM Hospital education bureaucracy have testified that Herald was fired because she was impaired during a kidney transplant surgery, did not get treatment for the problem and did not show up for meetings that bosses called to discuss the impairment.
For the last week, there has been sometimes numbing testimony about how the anesthesiology program and medical training operate, about drugs, policies, impaired physicians and where and how and for how long they need treatment.
It is all expected to wrap up by Friday before 2nd Judicial District Judge Shannon Bacon and go to the jurors, who long ago learned to stand up and stretch during long bench conferences with the lawyers.
Herald described the rape after taking the stand late Friday, but because of unexpected interruptions, including a death in the family of a juror, she did not finish her testimony and cross-examination until Wednesday.
She described growing up in the Lincoln Park area of Detroit, her cervical cancer at 18 from her mother’s exposure to a now-banned drug given to pregnant women, and her circuitous route to medical school at the University of North Carolina.
Herald, 48, said she came to UNM for her residency in part because she was an older student and believed she would mix comfortably into a program with other older students.
In mid-June 2009, she had decided to purchase a condominium and was celebrating with a girlfriend at a Nob Hill restaurant/bar when two other UNM residents arrived, at the girlfriend’s invitation. Herald said she agreed to accompany the girlfriend to one of the men’s home to watch a CD and to be “a little bit of a mother hen.”
At the home, the girlfriend passed out and one of the men offered to give her a home tour. Instead, she said he pushed her down and forced her to have sex.
“At first I just laughed, because I was a 45-year-old woman, and he was a 35-year-old guy. I was trying to politely fend him off. Women learn how to turn down men for sex,” she said. “I’ve described it in group therapy as a Hitchcock moment – when you know everything has changed.”
She told friends about it at the time but decided not to make a police report for fear of affecting her status in the program, she testified.
Herald said she was plagued by nightmares, and was using Ambien to sleep and Ativan to deal with anxiety from seeing her alleged rapist at the hospital, when she told another resident about the rape. That doctor reported the incident to top officials.
Herald was summoned to a meeting with Dr. David Sklar, associate dean for graduate medical education, Dr. James Harding, then-director of the anesthesiology residency program, and Dr. John Wills, anesthesiology department head, in September in which she disclosed the rape to them.
Herald testified that she repeatedly asked for and was denied a leave of absence, but they have said the opposite – that they offered leave and she turned it down.
Herald has also said she was told that if she wasn’t going to make a police report, she should refrain from discussing the assault with other faculty.
They said Herald told them she wanted to get on with her life and career.
ADDENDUM: Cyndi is working with The Center For Peer Review Justice “Doctors Are Our Patients” to get another Residency and her Medical License.