BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Frank Bridges was eager to get well and move around more freely after back surgery. Unfortunately, he died at a rehabilitation facility while in pool therapy.
Bridges was 57-years-old when he died in March. He was found unresponsive at the bottom of a pool inside OrthoSports on Harlem Road in Amherst.
Kimberly Bridges recalls the day her husband left their home to go to Orthosports. He said, "I'm ready to start my pool therapy so I can be stronger."
It was a place where he had gone to for therapy in the past, but this time would be different.
Amherst Police reports confirm a 911 call for paramedics to respond to Orthosports for an unresponsive man. CPR was performed and Bridges was rushed to Buffalo VA Hospital in Buffalo.
The timeline of events was short. At 2:43 p.m. Bridges was sliding unresponsive in the pool by another patient. At 3:30, Bridges was pronounced dead.
The Erie County Medical Examiner's report cited "drowning" as the cause of death. It was an accident.
"I never knew the next time I saw my husband he would be lifeless," said Bridges' widow.
According to police reports and the medical examiner's investigation report, it was the therapist who pulled Bridges from the water when he was unresponsive.
There are many questions including how did Frank Bridges go to a facility for pool therapy and drown and was he properly supervised? Amherst police determined there was nothing in the investigation that appeared criminal.
Bridges widow filed a civil lawsuit against Orthosports for wrongful death. Attorney Richard Barnes represents the plaintiff. He said it's believed that Frank Bridges was underwater at least five minutes before he was pulled out. "It does not seem to be disputed that he was left alone unattended," he said.
The Amherst Police report identifies the physical therapist as Donna Gulick. In the report, it says she "went to check on other patients and when she returned to the pool area" another patient had a "panicked" look on his face. Gulick jumped in the pool where Bridges was "face down in the deep end of the pool" which was seven feet deep.
The autopsy also confirms that Bridges, who is recovering from major back surgery, was on a lot of pain medications. The medical examiner's report says the cause of death was drowning, but there were "contributing factors such as acute combined fentanyl, morphine and other prescribed drugs." Attorney Barnes said the faculty was aware of the pain drugs Mr. Bridges was on.
"I've been a lawyer for 34 years, I've handled thousands of serious injury cases, I've never seen something quite like this," said Barnes
The attorney representing Orthosports did not respond to requests for an interview. However, in legal papers filed in response to the lawsuit, they deny any negligence by permitting a dangerous condition and failing to warn Mr. Bridges of any dangers at the location.
The New York State Education Department's office of Professional Discipline's Prosecution division is also involved. They say there is "substantial evidence" that professional misconduct occurred.