Medical Errors, Past and Present

"Ultimately the blame for our errors falls upon the institution. This is a system failure," Methodist Hospital CEO Sam Odle said at the time.



Tampa Surgeon Removes Wrong Leg

In what was perhaps the most publicized case of a surgical mistake in its time, a Tampa, Fla. surgeon mistakenly removed the wrong leg of his patient, 52-year-old Willie King, during an amputation procedure in February 1995.

It was later revealed that a chain of errors before the surgery culminated in the wrong leg being prepped for the procedure. While the surgeon's team realized in the middle of the procedure that they were operating on the wrong leg, it was already too late, and the leg was removed.

Court documents show that both of King's legs were unhealthy, and even the healthier leg of the two would likely require amputation eventually. Still, as a result of the error, the surgeon's medical license was suspended for six months and he was fined $10,000. University Community Hospital in Tampa, the medical center where the surgery took place, paid $900,000 to King. The surgeon involved in the case paid an additional $250,000 to King.

In the 12 years since the incident, according to a statement released by the hospital, the episode prompted a new wave of precautions, including a double back-up identification system, a computerized error-tracking system, patient safety measures, and the placement of Unit-Based Patient Safety Officers throughout the hospital to monitor and educate doctors and other medical professionals.



Doctors Remove Wrong Testicle

In yet another case of a wrong-sided operation, surgeons mistakenly removed the healthy right testicle of 47-year-old Air Force veteran Benjamin Houghton.

Houghton had been complaining of pain and shrinkage of his left testicle -- concerns that prompted doctors to schedule surgery for June 14 to remove it due to cancer fears. However, according to Associated Press reports, the veteran's medical records suggest a series of missteps -- from an error on the consent form to a failure on the part of medical personnel to mark the proper surgical site before the procedure.

The error, which took place at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, spurred a $200,000 lawsuit from Houghton and his wife.

When contacted, the medical center had no comment on the progress of the case or on subsequent safety measures that were implemented at the hospital.



Surgeon Removes Kidney Instead of Gallbladder

In June 2006, a surgeon at the Milford Regional Medical Center in Massachusetts mistakenly removed an 84-year-old woman's right kidney instead of her gallbladder.

According to local news reports, the surgeon made the error after misinterpreting test results that were intended to help guide him in operating amid internal bleeding and swelling. Complicating the situation was the fact that the women's organs were in such poor condition that it was only after the kidney had been removed and was being examined after the surgery that doctors learned the organ was not the patient's gallbladder.

Fortunately, the patient recovered, and even though her gallbladder remained intact doctors determined that it would not need to be removed after all. The Massachusetts Board of Registration initially suspended the surgeon's license, but he was later allowed to practice surgery on a probationary basis for a five-year period -- a probation that is still in effect.

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