Man's Penis Removal Was Surgical Mistake

ByABC News via logo
August 10, 2003, 7:26 PM

Aug. 11 -- After 67-year-old Hurshell Ralls went into surgery for bladder cancer, he came out of surgery missing more than he ever expected. His penis and testicles were gone.

"My wife had to hold my hand in the bed there. And she said 'Honey it's over. They got all the cancer.' And she waited a few minutes and then said 'But they had to remove your penis.' And I was one mad dude, you know," Ralls said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

Ralls, a mechanic, says doctors never warned him or his wife that amputation of the penis and testicles might have been part of surgery before he went in for the procedure in November 1999. Ralls filed a negligence lawsuit against the Clinics of North Texas in Wichita Falls, and the doctors who operated on him. The civil case is set for trial Aug. 25.

"It was never even discussed. And I felt like he ought to have at least told us that this might be a possibility so that we could have talked it over even before he was admitted to the hospital," said Thelma Ralls, his wife. In a February deposition, Ralls' doctor said that he determined the cancer had spread to the penis while he was removing Ralls' bladder. Doctors did not send a tissue sample to the lab until after the surgery. A Dallas doctor who examined cell slides later found that Ralls did not have penile cancer.

The Ralls' case may sound outrageous, but for cancer patients across the country, medical errors are something they and many other hospital patients face with alarming frequency.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in 2001 that 95 percent of doctors have witnessed a major medical mistake, and that many of them involved cancer. When Johns Hopkins reviewed tissue samples from thousands of cancer patients around the country, they found one out of every 71 cases was misdiagnosed.

Both Breasts Removed, No Cancer

Frank Barerra is another cancer patient who was the victim of an error. He was actually in surgery, about to have his prostate removed, when a call came from the pathology department there had been a mistake. His slides showed no cancer.