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Former Tampa councilmember Helen Chavez died from misdiagnosis, daughter claims

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A medical misdiagnosis and drug interaction caused the death of a former Tampa City Council member, her daughter claims in a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County.

Republican Helen Pappas Chavez, a fine-dining restaurateur, served on the Tampa City Council from 1979 to 1987. She stepped down from the Council in 1987 to run for mayor, later losing to Sandy Freedman.

Her restaurants included Chavez at the Royal, Chavez Windows on the Park and the Tea Room in Old Hyde Park.

Chavez died Aug. 2, 2014, at age 89, leaving behind three daughters, one of which told the Tampa Bay Times that she died of organ failure.

Denise Elaine Chavez, 69, is one of Helen Chavez’s daughters; she also became a restaurateur and ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2007. Chavez currently operates Chavez at Home, a catering company.

About a week before she died, Helen Chavez went the office of Dr. Christine Hyatt Torres of GMS Bayside Physicians, complaining of a swollen lip. Chavez had been on Ramipril, a drug blood-pressure and congestive-heart-failure drug; swelling is listed on drugs.com as one side effects of the drug.

According to a suit filed Jan. 31 by Denise Chavez, on behalf of the estate of Helen Chavez, Torres allegedly misdiagnosed the problem as a food allergy and prescribed Benadryl.

That day, Chavez was admitted to the emergency room, dying days later from congestive heart failure.

Denise Chavez claims the defendants – Torres, Physician Assistant Kimberly Gore and GMS Florida West Coast Inc., doing business as GMS Bayside Physicians — should have known the swelling was a side effect of Ramipril, and should have told Helen Chavez to discontinue taking the drug.

The suit also blames the defendants for discharging Chavez without referring her to a specialist first.

Denise Chavez is demanding a jury trial, and is seeking costs for hospitalization, medical care and treatment, as well as death expenses, costs, and loss of income or business interests for both Helen and Denise.

Although Torres appears on the GMS Florida website, state records show her medical license was delinquent as of Feb. 6.

GMS operates three locations in Tampa: 3043 W. Cleveland Street, 508 S. Habana Avenue, and 4278 W. Linebaugh Avenue.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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