Cristobal "Cris" Arteaga had come to terms with the fact that his stepfather, Silvino Perez, had been in a vegetative state for more than a year following complications from open-heart surgery, when he said an anonymous phone call suddenly shattered his peace.
The man on the other end of the line, Arteaga said, told him that his stepfather's cardiologist, Dr. Parvaiz Chaudhry, at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center in California, had walked out before completing Perez's surgery to attend a luncheon, leaving Perez's chest cavity open on the table.
The caller told Arteaga that the physician's assistant was left to close Perez's chest even though he wasn't qualified to do so, Arteaga said. When complications arose and Perez's heart stopped, Chaudhry drove back from the luncheon, 20 or 30 minutes away, to save the patient, Arteaga said the caller told him. But the brain damage had already been done.
Artaega said the caller told him that this was why Perez was left in a vegetative state.
"It was awful to hear that," Arteaga said. "I just want people to know what kind of doctor he is. You go in there and you trust this individual with your life. ... The fact that he would do this to an individual – one individual – is too much."
The man on the other end of the line told Arteaga to look at the previous day's newspaper, The Fresno Bee, for an article about a state health department report detailing how a cardiologist at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center left a patient open on the operating table the previous April. Though neither the story nor the report named the patient or the patient's doctor, the caller said it was about Arteaga's stepfather and Chaudhry. Arteaga said the caller told him he was sure of it, because he was in the operating room that day.
The document on the California Department of Public Health's website revealed that the investigation began because the department had received an anonymous call placed to the health department a week after Perez's surgery.
Arteaga's lawyer, Jeffrey Mitchell, said the dates and medical details listed on the report were too similar to Perez's case for this to be a coincidence.
Neither the California Department of Public Health nor the hospital would confirm whether the report was about Chaudhry and Perez to ABCNews.com, but Arteaga's lawyer, Jeffrey Mitchell, said the dates and medical details listed on the report matched Perez's case and therefore couldn't be a coincidence.
Before his surgery, Perez was an active 72-year-old, Arteaga said. He could climb 30 feet up his trees to prune them himself, and if he didn't answer his front door, Arteaga knew he could find his stepfather tinkering away at a project in the backyard.
Perez didn't go to the doctor much, said his stepson, but on March 30, 2012, Arteaga got a call from a health facility that his stepfather was having chest pains and needed to be taken to the emergency room, Arteaga said. A few days later, they both learned that Perez had a heart defect, a calcified heart valve and an aortic aneurism. He was scheduled for surgery at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center on April 2, 2012, but was in good spirits, Arteaga said.
The day of the surgery, Arteaga said he and his mother were led to a private waiting room and told that they would receive updates on the surgery via the waiting-room phone. Arteaga said it rang when Perez's surgery started, and two hours into the surgery, Chaudhry came into the room to proclaim the surgery a success. He then walked out.
Unknown to Arteaga and his mother in the waiting room, this was likely when the doctor left the hospital before closing the patient's chest, according to Jeffrey Mitchell, the family's attorney.
Arteaga and his mother were still in the hospital waiting room on April 2 when the phone rang again to tell them that Perez was facing complications, Arteaga said.
"It was somewhat of a whirlwind," Arteaga said. "At one point in time, they told us to round up the whole family, because they didn't think he was going to pull through.
"I didn't know that the doctor walked out, and that was the reason my dad was in the state that he's in," he said.