(CBS) —Imagine paying $10,000 a month for skilled nursing home care for your loved one only to have the unthinkable happen.
It was horrific for an Arlington Heights family that is now suing the nursing home.
Ninety-two year old Catherine McCann has severe Alzheimer’s and is unable to speak or care for herself. While she was at Lutheran Home for the Aged in Arlington Heights, it was discovered that her left ear was infested with maggots.
“I was horrified, shocked,” says her husband John McCann, 88. “I thought it was terrible. I’m paying all this money for that kind of care — no way.”
Now, her family is suing the nursing home for emotional distress and negligence.
“In this case, they allowed Catherine McCann to have a fly get into her ear canal, lay eggs and hatch 57 maggots,” says attorney Henry Gruss, who filed the lawsuit
That’s how many maggots Northwest Community Hospital doctors removed from McCann’s ear. Before the surgery, doctors made a videotape to document the infestation.
“One of them was just crawling out of the ear,” Gruss says.
Mary McCann Stassen says she could barely look the photos of her mother’s ear.
“It’s a picture I will never, ever get out of my mind –ever,” she says.
Worse yet, she says, was “hearing her scream as they were taking the maggots out of her ear.”
The family’s attorney sent some of the maggots to an expert for analysis. The expert concluded they had been in her ear for 2 ½ to 3 days.
Since Catherine McCann can’t speak, the only sign of a problem she had given was tugging at her ear, her husband recalled being told.
“And once they got the maggots out, that subsided,” McCann says.
Catherine McCann has an enlarged ear canal from a surgery performed decades ago and has required periodic flushing of the ear, or antibiotics, for infections.
Nine days before the maggots were discovered, McCann was seen by a doctor for treatment for a wax buildup. He prescribed drops four times a day to treat the condition. The nursing home confirmed she was getting the drops with the last dose at 6 p.m. the evening before the maggots were found.
Says Gruss: “I’m questioning whether or not she received the medication in that left ear during this time. Because how can you put drops of medicine in an ear that has 57 maggots?”
Catherine’s husband is angry at the nursing home.
“After giving them $270,000 of my hard earned money — my life savings I gave to them — and not even so much as a note or a call,” he says.
Phillip Hemmer, the nursing home administrator, says a staff members familiar with infectious diseases went to the hospital to see the family.
“We are just as concerned as the family,” he says.
Hemmer added the nursing home does not believe staff did anything wrong.
He said a nursing home aide saw Mrs. McCann scratching her ear on the day of the hospital admission, brought it to the attention of a nurse who saw the larvae and called the nursing home’s medical director. The director decided she should be sent to the hospital.
Nursing home officials believe that until that day, the maggots were not big enough for staff to see them.
Officials say the home has an excellent reputation and this was an “extraordinarily unusual event” that had never happened there before.
They had the home inspected by an exterminator who found no evidence of flies and they speculate that the fly may have gotten in her ear when Mrs. McCann’s private duty caretaker took her outside for a walk.
They also note that Illinois Department of Public Health found no violations in this case.
State officials, however, say that in response to other complaints the home was found to have violated guidelines related to residents’ care and fined $1,100 this month.
Mrs. McCann’s family had her transferred to another nursing home immediately.