Another Tragic Death

Stop me if you have heard this one, because I know you have.  It is almost the same case as I wrote about back in May and here it is happening again.  This time the dead patient was an 18 year old woman, who had just graduated from high school.

Doctors Come In Many Different Flavors - Sandweg & Ager PC

The most recent case comes to us from the state of Colorado, where an 18 year old woman was undergoing a breast augmentation surgery at a surgery center owned by the surgeon.  The anesthesia was being administered by a Nurse Anesthetist (NA).  During the surgery, the patient got in trouble and her status declined precipitously.  She went into cardiac arrest.  The NA recognized the problem and that it was beyond his ability to address.  The patient needed to go to a full service hospital for resuscitation.  He informed the surgeon and said the surgeon needed to call 911.  The surgeon refused and refused to permit anyone else to call 911 either.  The team administered CPR to the unconscious patient, but 5 1/2 hours elapsed before help was summoned to take her to the hospital.  By the time she arrived at the hospital, she had suffered irreversible brain damage.  She lingered in a nursing home for over a year before finally getting pneumonia and dying.

Both the surgeon and the NA were charged criminally in the death.  The charges against the NA were dropped when he turned in his nursing license and agreed to testify against the surgeon.  At trial the surgeon blamed everything on the NA.  The jury disagreed and found the surgeon guilty of attempted manslaughter and obstructing telephone service.  The surgeon and the NA were both sued by the patient’s family and apparently settled for $1M each, which was probably their policy limits.  As of this writing, the surgeon is still in good standing with the Colorado medical board and is awaiting sentencing.

This is eerily similar to the case I reported on in May.  They both involved young, female, plastic surgery patients undergoing surgery at a surgery center owned by the surgeon.  Both patients got in trouble and, in both cases, the surgeon refused to call 911 or to permit anyone else to do so.  In both cases, the young women died.  Both cases were so egregious that criminal charges were filed.

While it is true that plastic surgery and other procedures are successfully performed under general anesthesia in surgery centers every day, when there is a significant problem, the patient has to be transferred to a hospital for a higher level of care.  Even under the best of circumstances, the transfer will take time.  Even under the best of circumstances, it will take time before the patient can receive the care she or he needs at a full-service hospital.

The odds are that everything will be fine with your plastic surgery, if you have chosen a well-qualified and well-trained surgeon.  However, we know for certain that some patients will get in trouble and will need an emergency ambulance ride to the hospital.  What that trouble will be, how long it will take to get to the hospital, and whether it will be too late by the time the patient arrives at the hospital is unknown.  It could happen to you.

If you want to have cosmetic surgery, be my guest, but remember that there are risks and that some people will be damaged.  Lower the risks by choosing your surgeon wisely and, if possible, having your procedure at a hospital.  Good luck.

Posted in Doctors, Hospitals, medical errors, medical ethics, Medical Malpractice, Nurses, Surgical Errors |