Originally Published Sunday, July 15, 2001 -- Stockton Record


Wendland condition worsens

By Steve Hartsoe

Assistant Metro Editor

and Sarah Grunder

Record Staff Writer 

The health of Lodian Robert Wendland, at the center of a high-profile conservator rights case heard in May by the California Supreme Court, is deteriorating.

Lawrence Nelson, attorney for Wendland's wife and conservator, Rose Wendland, would not provide specifics about Robert Wendland's condition.

"He is ill, (but) I can't say what," Nelson said Saturday.  He learned about the illness "in the last four or five weeks."

Meanwhile, the mother of Robert Wendland says she is being kept in the dark about her son's condition and wants information, her attorney said.

Attorney Janie Hickok Siess said Florence Wendland visited her son this week at Lodi Memorial Hospital and discovered his condition had worsened.

She called a news conference Saturday in front of the hospital.

"He's in pain," Florence Wendland said during the news conference.  "Did he have a heart attack? We don't know."

Added Siess later Saturday: "She doesn't know what's wrong, and the nurses won't tell her anything."

Lodi Memorial referred media inquiries to the family.  Both sides of the family Saturday referred questions to their respective attorneys.

Siess filed a motion in San Joaquin County Superior Court late last week, requesting that Florence Wendland be given information on her son's condition. The motion also requested Robert Wendland's sister be allowed to visit him and asked that an independent medical examiner be allowed to examine him.

The judge denied the motion, and Siess said she will appeal Monday morning in the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

The filing says that Wednesday, Florence Wendland arrived at the hospital and "noticed staff looking at me strangely. When I went into Robert's room, I found him in his hospital bed with additional tubes in his throat, chest, etc. Robert was 'clammy' to the touch and seemed to be having trouble breathing."

Both sides await a ruling from the California Supreme Court on whether Rose Wendland has the right to authorize removing the feeding tube that keeps him alive.

Robert Wendland suffered extensive brain damage in 1993 after he failed to negotiate an onramp from Highway 12 to Interstate 5. His blood-alcohol level measured nearly twice the legal limit the night of the accident, and authorities said he was not wearing a seat belt.

After coming out of a coma, Wendland remained unable to speak, sit up or feed himself. Medical experts are unsure of how much he understands.

In 1995, a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge granted Rose Wendland permission to authorize removal of the feeding tube that sustains her husband.  But Florence Wendland obtained an order to halt the withdrawal of nutrients.  The court battle has continued since that time.

In late May, the California Supreme Court heard the case, and a ruling is expected within 90 days of those oral arguments.

Siess' court filing claims that around June 1, a hospital administrator told Florence Wendland she was now the only person who could visit her son, per Rose Wendland's instructions. Siess said the hospital would not allow Florence Wendland to visit her son Friday.

"Rose doesn't feel that anyone other than the mother is appropriate," Nelson said Saturday.  "(Robert Wendland) can't leave the room now because of illness."

In a letter to Siess, Nelson said Florence Wendland may visit her son, but only in his room.

He also said "other, estranged blood relatives" can visit Robert Wendland, but only with Rose Wendland's permission.  Previously, other family members were allowed to visit.

However, Nelson said relatives have brought "unauthorized people with them" to visit.

"Rose finds this completely unacceptable," he said.

Florence Wendland said that prior to June 1 of this year -- two days after the Supreme Court hearing -- she was allowed to wheel her son around the corridors of the hospital, where she would "read, sing and talk to Robert."  She said she also had taken him into a multipurpose room "where he and other patients participate in various activities."

Nelson called assertions that Wendland can play golf and bowl from his wheelchair a "distortion."  Previously published reports have characterized his bowling as consisting of pushing a lightweight ball on a ramp.

"The outrageousness of her (Florence Wendland's) claims about Robert's functional abilities increases when he is taken elsewhere," Nelson wrote to Siess.

Saturday, he added: "We're not denying that sometimes he can do it, but just because he can do that does not mean he is golfing.  That's the kind of distortion Rose is getting very, very tired of."

* To reach Assistant Metro Editor Steve Hartsoe, phone 546-8255 or e-mail shartsoe@recordnet.com

* To reach reporter Sarah Grunder, phone 943-8547 or e-mail
sgrunder@recordnet.com