Colostomy Gone Bad? What Could Be Worse

A Delaware man has filed suit against doctors, claiming a horrific surgical mix-up left him urinating feces and discharging urine from his bowels.

According to a lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Delaware Nov. 1, Joseph E. Swain of Dover, Del., had an operation at Kent General Hospital Feb. 22, 2006, intended to reverse a colostomy -- a procedure that shunts fecal matter away from the rectum and into a bag attached to the patient's body.

A colostomy is often used as a temporary measure to allow patients to recover after certain colon surgeries or injuries. Reattaching the colon to the rectum should have returned Swain's bowel function back to normal.

But the lawsuit states that doctors botched the job by stapling Swain's colon to his bladder instead of the rectal stump -- and that this mistake caused the patient to experience diarrhea, as well as "passing gas and liquid stool from the penis."

He has since had follow-up surgeries to correct the problem.

In addition to the potential for infection, the lawsuit alleges that the man suffered severe pain and suffering, disfigurement and embarrassment, and adds that the episode has also "affected the companionship with his wife."

The case was first reported in The News Journal, based in Wilmington, Del.

"I don't think there's any question that the reversal of the colostomy when this occurred caused the problem," said Gilbert Shelsby, the Dover attorney representing Swain in the lawsuit.

"It strikes you, and you think, 'How in the world can this happen?' You think, 'Can it really be true?'"

The attorney representing doctors involved in the case maintains that the complication was not a result of medical error, but just an unfortunate consequence of the colostomy reversal.

"My clients obviously feel very badly for the medical complications that happened to Mr. Swain," said Jeff Austin, the Wilmington attorney representing Dr. Thomas Barnett and Dr. Barton Clements, as well as Surgical Associates, PA, the practice with whom the doctors are affiliated.

"However, we feel very strongly that they did not bring about these unfortunate medical complications … Because this case is in litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comments at this time."

The other doctor named in the lawsuit, Dr. Brandt Feuerstein, is no longer associated with Surgical Associates, though he was at the time of the Swain's operations. Officials at Kent General Hospital, where the procedure was performed, did not respond to requests for comment on the case. Bayhealth Medical Center Inc., which runs Kent General Hospital, is also named as a defendant in the suit.

Lawsuit Claims Chain of Surgeries

According to the lawsuit, Swain was first admitted to Kent General Hospital Oct. 19, 2005, as a result of abdominal pain. Doctors found an abscess in his abdomen, which one of the doctors drained through a surgical procedure Oct. 31.

When the pain continued, Swain went back to the hospital Nov. 11. It was during this visit that doctors diagnosed him with diverticulitis -- a condition in which a hole forms in the side of the colon. As part of the treatment for the condition, the doctors removed part of Swain's colon and performed the colostomy.

But the lawsuit states that during the procedure to reverse to colostomy, Barnett and Clements improperly stapled the colon to the bladder, leading to nearly two weeks of agony for Swain.

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