Doctor Sued for Inserting Screwdriver Into Patient's Back

ByABC News via logo
February 17, 2006, 8:17 AM

Feb. 17, 2006 — -- A Hawaii surgeon is being sued for malpractice after he intentionally inserted a sawed-off screwdriver instead of a titanium rod into a man's back.

Robert Ricketson said he had no choice but to implant the screwdriver into the back of Arturo Iturralde, then 73. He said he did not have the titanium rods needed to complete the operation properly.

"I didn't feel I could risk keeping him under anesthetic with an unstable spine for two more hours," Ricketson, who is representing himself, told the jury during his opening statement this week. "There on the back table was a sterile, stainless-steel screwdriver the same diameter as the rods I intended to use."

The screwdriver piece snapped days after the January 2001 surgery, and Iturralde underwent three additional surgeries to insert the proper titanium rods and to repair other complications. However, Iturralde was rendered a paraplegic and died two years later.

After Ricketson removed the screwdriver during another surgery, nurses retrieved the pieces from the trash and took them to a lawyer. They also alerted Iturralde's family.

"I told Teresa we had to make sure the patient knows what happened to him," said Janelle Feldmeyer, one of the nurses. "You just can't do that."

Iturralde's family learned that before the botched surgery, Ricketson's medical license had been suspended in Oklahoma and revoked in Texas, following a string of malpractice lawsuits and treatment for a narcotics addiction. He had also admitted to writing fake prescriptions to get drugs.

Ricketson's license has since been revoked in Hawaii, and he has moved to Kansas, where he is also unable to practice medicine. The patient's family is also suing Hilo Medical Center, where the surgery was performed. The center says it did nothing wrong by issuing medical privileges to Ricketson because he was a licensed physician in the state.