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Surgical errors left patient with the wrong kidney removed

An operation in 2012 to remove an inmate's kidney went awry. Major surgical errors during the removal led to a California doctor's probation.

In 2012, a 59-year-old federal inmate underwent surgery to have his cancerous left kidney taken out; a surgeon mistake led to the removal of the wrong kidney at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. Upon completion of the procedure, the inmate was left with the diseased kidney when the healthy one was removed by accident. The surgeon, a licensed urologist of 41 years, stated that the wrong-site surgery error occurred due to a lack of access to the patient's complete medical records.

The medical board alleges that the physician relied on memory regarding which kidney to remove. Shockingly, even if the surgeon had checked the paperwork, the same mistake would have taken place because the paperwork itself gave incorrect information. St. Jude hospital was fined $100,000 for the error, which was deemed to be "an extreme departure from the standard of care." The surgeon was barred from supervising physician assistants and required to enroll in a wrong-site surgery class as a condition of his probation.

According to a 2006 study, wrong-site surgeries are rare, occurring once every five to ten years at large hospitals. In the past seven years, two other California hospitals faced fines for wrong-site surgeries. Regardless of their rarity, however, surgical errors have a lasting and often detrimental impact on the patient involved. Additional financial struggles, as well as prolonged healing time or even irreversible damage may result from surgical mistakes.

When courts assess a physician's liability for these additional struggles, the doctor's standard of care plays a major role. A standard of care refers to the level of skill and care practiced by an attending physician. They are held to the same standard other doctors would be in similar communities under similar circumstances. A physician who fails to meet this standard may be liable for the resulting harm, as may the healthcare institution employing the physician.

Surgical errors can cause lifelong difficulties for the victims. Receiving proper compensation for the preventable struggles is crucial for a harmed patient to begin the long road to recovery.

Source: OC Register, "Surgeon disciplined for removing inmate's good kidney, leaving tumorous one," Jenna Chandler, Dec. 2, 2014

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