For six months, Mark Templin, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran from Helena, Mont., prepared to die.
The retired 78-year-old checked himself in to the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center in 2009 after suffering chest pains. Templin remembers little of the weekend, except the dire diagnosis before his release: He was told he had a terminal brain tumor.
"They put a stent in and when I woke up on Monday, they told me there was something wrong with me," Templin, who worked for 18 years for railroad companies, told ABCNews.com. "I went home and made my funeral arrangements because I was told I didn't have much time to live. …I cried a lot."
Were it not for his son -- who stopped Templin from killing himself with his gun -- and the concern of a hospice nurse who took him back to the VA for a reevaluation, he would never have learned that doctors had misdiagnosed him.
Now, Templin, who in reality had a series of small strokes, has won a $59,820 lawsuit against the Fort Hamilton VA. He was awarded $500 per day for the initial period of severe mental and emotional distress and then $300 per day until his revised diagnosis, according to court papers.
Just this week, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy wrote that the family's distress was caused by internist Dr. Patrick Morrow and his "negligent failure to meet the standard of care."
"It is difficult to put a price tag on the anguish of a man wrongly convinced of his impending death," Molloy wrote. "Mr. Templin lived for 148 days … under the mistaken impression that he was dying of metastatic brain cancer."
While thinking he was dying, Templin quit his part-time job, sold his truck and signed a "do not resuscitate" order, which he posted to the refrigerator. He prepaid his funeral and his son-in-law built a wooden box for his ashes. His family, wife Marion and four grown children, gave him a "last birthday" dinner.
The court additionally ordered the VA to reimburse Templin for those expenses.
"I didn't want to do it," Templin said of the lawsuit. "I was a veteran and I love those guys up there. But the way they treated me ….I asked them for an apology and they wouldn't give it. That really got me mad. I wondered how many go through this. I don't want to see anyone go through this."
Templin's lawyer, Dan Buckley told ABCNews.com, "It was a long battle and good to see that at the end of the day, justice was done."
U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr told ABCNews.com that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Billings, Mont., did not have any comment on the judgment. She said the VA has 30 days to decide whether to file an appeal.
Templin's ordeal, which was first reported by the Helena Independent Record, began in January 2009 when he arrived at the VA hospital with what appeared to be a heart attack. After a stent was inserted, he experienced headaches, as well as problems with his memory, speech and vision.
Templin was sent to an ophthalmologist, who suspected a stroke, and ordered a non-contrast CT scan, according to court papers. That doctor suggested several diagnoses, including stroke and a brain tumor.
A neuroradiologist recommended further diagnostic testing and discussed that with Morrow, according to court papers. But later that day, Morrow made a strong recommendation to the VA's tumor board that it was brain cancer.
An MRI that would have revealed Templin had suffered a stroke was never given. Morrow disputed that, according to court papers, saying he had advised an MRI.
Templin was sent home with prescriptions for drugs and in-home hospice, which is offered to patients with less than six months to live.
The judge wrote in the judgment that one of Templin's daughters, asking how he would die, was told, "one of the tumors would grow 'like cauliflower' and Templin would die from a brain bleed."
Templin said of his near suicide attempt, "I kept staring at the gun. I didn't want my family to go through this."
He refused cancer treatments. One of the drugs he was prescribed was not to be medically given to stroke patients.
Judge Molloy wrote that Templin became "very depressed and preoccupied with his diagnosis."
"I couldn't drive or take care of lawns for people and I cried a lot," said Templin. "So I just sat there as hospice kept coming to the house."
Oddly, Templin began to get better and by June, he ended his hospice care.
"Finally one day I said to them, 'Hey, you are real nice, but you've got to get the hell out of here," he said. "Take your stuff, I don't want you around here. That's the way it started."
Then one day after firing hospice, he got a telephone call from a woman at the hospital, urging Templin to come back in for testing. "Oh what the heck," he said to himself. "I'll do it."
This time, he was assigned a new doctor who promised to "get to the bottom of this," said Templin. "Thank God for him."
The doctor discovered Templin had suffered a series of small strokes, which had caused his initial symptoms, but he did not have brain cancer.
"It was like a shock when he came in," said Templin. "My exact words were, 'Doctor, don't feed me with this bulls***. I'm not in the mood for it.' He said, 'No, Mark, you don't have cancer.'"
Templin said that at first he didn't want any financial reward for his suffering, but soon changed his mind. "For someone to go through this, you can't put a price on it."
- Disease & Medical Conditions