Articles Posted in Surgical Errors

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Who doesn’t love a new gadget? Whether it’s the latest iPhone or a new videogame console, we all love our technology. Sometimes, though, this rush can be to our determent. A good example of the danger of rushing involves the da Vinci Surgical Robot.

According to the manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, the device makes a surgeon’s job much easier, allowing smaller incisions and increased recovery time. The manufacturer says the da Vinci Robot can be used to treat obesity, endometriosis, throat cancer, prostate removal, kidney cancer, coronary artery disease, and gallbladder removal. The robot has four arms: three for surgical instruments and a fourth with an attached camera. It claims to give doctors an increased range of motion and to provide a less invasive way of achieving many traditional surgeries. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately there’s more to the story.

While the benefits touted by the manufacture may be true to an extent, there have also been reports of serious injuries related to the use of the robot. Part of the problem appears to be a rush to train surgeons who are being put in control of the powerful machines before they are ready. Patients who have been injured by the robots have begun filing lawsuits and recently requested that a panel of federal district court judges consolidate the litigation before a single federal court.

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Dr. Beverly Carl was sued by a patient after utilizing saline breast implants rather than silicone implants during the patient’s breast enlargement surgery. Dr. Carl knew that Ms. Daly had signed a medical consent form for surgery that specifically required the sue of silicone implants. After Ms. Daly had been placed under anesthesia for the surgery, Dr. Carl realized that her office had provided her the wrong type of implants, but Dr. Carl went forward with the surgery after asking Ms. Daly’s fiance for authority to use saline implants in lieu of silicone ones. The patient, Brittany Daly, found out that the wrong type of implants were used after she awoke from surgery and was told by her fiance that Dr. Carl had asked him to agree to saline implants. Ms. Daly sued Dr. Carl, alleging that Dr. Carl should have awoken her from anesthesia to tell her about the error. The complaint also alleged that Dr. Carl continued Ms. Daly under anesthesia two hours longer than necessary in an attempt to fix the problem. Finally, the complaint alleged that Dr. Carl violated Ms. Daly’s rights by asking Ms. Daly’s fiance for authorization to change the type of implant used in the surgery.

Although the complaint against Dr. Carl did not explain why Ms. Daly wanted silicone implants, it is the case that silicone implants are generally considered to have a more “natural” look and feel than saline implants because the gel in silicone implants is similar in texture to breast tissue. In addition, it is more difficult to rupture a silicone implant than a saline one and when a saline implant does rupture, it deflates such that the problem is immediately visible whereas a silicone implant appears the same for some period of time even after rupture.

Dr. Carl agreed to a confidential settlement this summer.

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A New Jersey jury awarded a woman $6 Million and her husband $500,000 for injuries she suffered when her OB-GYN (obstetrician) cut her bowel during a routine caesarean section (“c-section”) in 2001. The doctor testifed that a piece of Jane Bodell’s small intestine was stuck to her uterus and that while trying to separate the bowel from the uterus, he unknowingly cut the bowel. He then failed to discover that he had cut the bowel until a subsequent exploratory surgery intended to determine why Mrs. Bodell was suffering from severe abdominal pain and fever after her c-section.

As a result of the bowel being cut, the contents of the bowel leaked into the stomach, which caused infections, organ scarring and blockages of the intestines. Mrs. Bodell now requires surgery on a regular basis to keep her condition manageable. The jury awarded Mrs. Bodell $6 Million for her pain and suffering and her husband $500,00 for his “loss of consortium” claim (his loss of Mrs. Bodell’s companionship and marital services related to her injuries).

Surgical mishaps are a common source of medical malpractice cases. Although cutting the bowel or another organ during surgery is frequently a recognized complication of surgery, when detecting such a complication is delayed, it may be medical negligence.

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In a case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a New Jersey man’s Estate is suing the Philadelphia Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania because cancerous lungs were improperly transplanted into his body. Tony Grier died after he was transplanted with lungs from an individual with a 16 year history of smoking. The transplanted lungs were filled with cancer. The transplant was needed because Mr. Grier sufferred from severe sarcoidosis, which had badly damaged his own lungs.

The transplant occurred on January 7, 2005 after the hospital obtained informed consent tfor the transplant. However, the obtaining of consent was based on the hospital’s representations that the lungs to be transplanted were from an 18 year old in good health. Only four months after the transplant, the lungs were found to be filled with cancerous tumors. Subsequently, Mr. Grier died only a couple of months later.

Mr. Grier’s Estate has filed suit alleging that the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania falsely represented that the lungs were from a young and healthy person. Recently, a motion was filed to allow the Estate to add additional defendants and new allegations, including lack of informed consent, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on new information discovered concerning the origin of the smoker’s lungs. The Estate of Mr. Grier seeks to sue the hospital and doctor responsible for removing the bad lungs and the donor program that was responsible for suppling incorrect information concerning the bad organs.

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A 60 year old McKeesport (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania man recently filed administrative action against two podiatrists from the Pittsburgh VA (Veteran’s Administration) Hospital for operating on the wrong foot to correct his bunion and hammer-toe deformity. Although the deformities were on the patient’s left foot, the surgeons improperly operated on his right foot. Because this case is against physicians from the VA Hospital, as well as the VA Hospital itself, the case was filed in Federal court (Western District of Pennsylvania). Papers detail the patient’s allegations of improper diagnosis and treatment, as well as the obvious medical error of operating on the wrong foot. There is also a lack of informed consent allegation concerning the surgery that was done on the incorrect foot.

It is reported that, before the surgery began on February 22, 2008, the patient observed the hospital staff make markings on his left foot, which was the foot for which surgery was intended. This is a practice that all patients should follow before elective surgery. However, when the patient woke up, much to his shock, he found his right foot was bandaged. No explanation for the medical error has been reported to my knowledge. The patient had no prior problems with his right foot, which was improperly operated on.

This type of surgical error concerning wrong site surgery should never occur. Unfortunately, there have been far too many reports of wrong site surgery. Recently, a hospital in Rhode Island reported three separate incidents involving brain surgery on the wrong side of the brain. Such mistakes should never be tolerated and any individual who had a wrong site surgery should immediately contact an experienced trial lawyer.

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Medical malpractice allegations that duPont Hospital for Children (in Wilmington, Delaware) improperly performed experimental sugery for the placement of non-FDA approved cardiac stents have resulted in 17 lawsuits to date. The Delaware hospital, along with renowned heart surgeon William Norwood, M.D., performed numerous open heart surgeries on patients to prepare them to receice the experimental cardiac shunt. The hospital apparently never received, or even requested, an exception from the FDA for “compassionate use” of the heart shunts. Numerous children sufferred devastating injuries, and some died, as a result of the alleged improper conduct of the hospital and the surgical team. Attorneys in the various lawsuits have claimed that the specific heart surgeries performed, as well as the use of the shunts, were experimental and negligently performed. Additionally, there are allegations that proper informed consent for the experimental procedures was never obtained.

In the most recent lawsuit to be filed, a child had two experimental open-heart surgeries to prepare the child’s heart to receive the stent. The family was eventually informed that the stent was not FDA-approved, but only two years after the last surgical procedure. The family claims that the hospital and surgical team was aware that the FDA never approved the stent and that the FDA had sent a warning letter to the hospital prohibiting the stent’s use in patients. However, the lawsuit alleges that for two years the hospital fraudulently concealed and misrepresented this information to the family, whose child had heart surgery to prepare for the stent’s use.

The duPont Hospital for Children has fired the heart surgeon and cardiologist involved in the experimental use of the heart stent, but the damage to patients and their families will last forever. As in these cases, claims of negligently performed procedures (medical malpractice), lack of informed consent and product liability often are intertwined in this type of complex litigation. Only knowledgeable, experienced and skilled attorneys are able to direct and litigate this type of difficult case to successfully uncover the wrong-doing of the doctors and hospitals and make a recovery for the patient and their family.

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Not once, not twice, but three times in one year doctors at Rhode Island Hospital performed brain surgery on the wrong side of a patient’s head. The first patient apparently was uninjured from surgery performed to the incorrect side of the brain, but the second patient was not so fortunate. Just six months after the first instance, the same mistake occurred, this time resulting in the patient’s death several weeks after surgery. After the second incident, the State of Rhode Island required the hospital to have better oversight of its neurosurgeons and their intended surgeries. Notwithstanding these requirements on the hospital, the same mistake happened for a third time just three months later. In the most recent instance, the hospital again reports that the patient is doing well.

Each instance involved a different physician, with the most recent case arising from surgery begun by a resident physician (doctor in training). The hospital, which is a teaching hospital for Brown University, was fined $50,000 by the State of Rhode Island. The hospital has now reported that it is reviewing its policies and training programs and granting nurses greater authority to confirm that safety precautions are followed.

Unfortunately, surgery on an incorrect body part happens far too frequently in the United States. Prior to surgery, it is a good practice for patients and families to ensure that there is a mark on the specific body part being operated on. Many surgeons will make an “X” on a leg or the abdomen to indicate clearly to all in the operating room which body part is to be cut open. Patients and families can do the same thing and mark the correct arm or side with an “X” and remind the doctors and nurses of this fact. Hospitals need to adopt better procedures to ensure these types of accidents NEVER occur.

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