Lakota Sioux elder Vern Traversie says he went to have open heart surgery at Rapid City Regional Hospital, and left with three Ks (Ku Klux Klan) carved or burned into his torso.
Seven months after the surgery, and after he says he has received little help from his attorney and local and state authorities, he’s taking his story public. In an emotional 10 minute Youtube video (watch below), the 68-year-old Traversie. who is blind, details the physical and emotional scars he says he suffered following the surgery in August last year.
In the video, he says that after his surgery a female hospital employee told him to take pictures of his abdomen and chest immediately when he got home.
“‘My conscience won’t let me be,’ she said to me. She said, ‘It’s bothered me for days. Something was done to you, and I believe it was wrong. I can’t sleep; I keep thinking about what they did to you.’”
“She said she wouldn’t identify herself or testify for me,” he said. “She told me she couldn’t endanger herself or her family.”
He says photos were taken by a friend as well as the tribal police. As well as scars from the 2011 surgery and prior procedures, they also show deep, scattered wounds — including what look like three Ks across his abdomen (see above picture).
“You can see the surgery sutures, and they’re clean,” Traversie said. “But those three letters, two good-sized Ks and one smaller one off to the side, had to be made with some sharp knife or heated instrument. It’s like they branded me.”
He said his doctor was shocked.
“She said, ‘Why is there KKK on your abdomen? That’s not what surgeons do. My pastor was with me, and he said it was a racial hate crime.”
He does not know if the damage was inflicted during surgery or while he was in intensive care.
“I had a confrontation with a male nurse while I was in intensive care,” Traversie said. “I was in so much pain, I begged him for pain medication. He told me to shut my F-ing mouth or he’d shut it for me. I didn’t provoke him. I didn’t disrespect him.
“I did talk to his supervisor,” he continued. “She said she’d take care of it and even take disciplinary action if necessary.”
He talked to tribal police and contacted the FBI, who said they would investigate, but he says he never heard back from them.
He found an attorney, who was told that the hospital attributed the extra wounds to surgical tape or to infections related to his diabetes. But Traversie says he has not had any infections and “what tape could make scars like that? The skin won’t heal. Those marks went through all three layers of my skin, deep into my flesh. I was in pain for a long time after that.”
Seven months later and he has fired the attorney because they weren’t working on his legal suit. The tribal council is now trying to find a new attorney.
Talking to Indian Country, through tears, he says:
“I trusted them to take care of me. They didn’t have to do that to me. I was defenseless. I don’t want to carry around those letters for the rest of my life, but I have to. They’re not only in my body, they’re in my spirit. They’re in my soul.”
He said, voice trembling:
“In the name of God and Jesus Christ, I’m telling the truth. This happened to me.”
Rapid City Regional Hospital say it is unable to comment on a patient’s treatment without consent. Rapid City police spokeswoman Tara Huepel says that police investigated the charges and they found no evidence of criminal activity.
The Justice for Vern campaign is holding a peace march in Eagle Butte, Monday May 21st.
Speakers will be presenting issues to end racial violence and to those that have been mistreated in the past from the RC Regional Hospital are asked to come forward and share their story as well. We are asking elders, adults, children, men and women native, non-native to support the cause.
Watch Traversie talks about his experience:
Picture courtesy of Justice For Vern Facebook page