Airman Loses Legs After Gall Bladder Surgery

Family says military doctors waited too long to get him the help he needed.

ByMary Mcguirt
July 22, 2009, 6:55 PM

July 22, 2009— -- A 20-year-old airman was in serious condition today at the University of California Davis Medical Center after losing both legs in what family members said was a botched surgery to remove his gall bladder.

The complications that forced doctors to amputate Airman 1st Class Colton Read's legs occurred after surgeons at Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base punctured Read's aorta, according to family members.

Instead of immediately calling in a vascular surgeon to repair the damage to the artery that carried blood from the heart, doctors at the air base waited 8 1/2 hours before taking him to the UC Davis hospital.

By the time Read got there, his wife Jessica said, doctors told her, "Things don't look good. He might not survive."

The airman's mother said the mistake by the resident who performed the surgery is forgiveable, but she cannot understand why he was not gotten help sooner.

"I'm not questioning the resident's education that did this," Shelley Read-Miller told ABC News affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, Calif. "I won't question anybody, but the time -- that's the only area that seems unbearable."

Jessica Read told KXTV that when she noticed during the surgery that her husband's feet were turning blue and asked doctors about it, they said they were working on him and told her to go out to the waiting room.

"It should never have happened," Read's grandfather Bill Read told ABC News. "I mean, the first mistake is cutting the aorta, but the biggest mistake is not getting him transported to where there is a vascular surgeon."

Both the University of California Davis Medical Center and Travis Air Force Base declined to give any more specific details on the situation.

Read, who was assigned to the 9th Intelligence Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, is expected to remain at UC Davis Medical Center for seven to eight weeks.

"Airman First Class Colton Read is part of the Air Force family, one of our own, and we will do everything in our power to ensure he and his family receive all the support they need, now and down the road as he recovers," AF ISR Agency commander Maj. Gen. Brad Heithold, said in a written statement to ABC News.

"Two family liaison officers from his squadron were assigned to Airman Read immediately to help him and his family with questions, and to ensure they quickly received all the support which continues to be volunteered by the Beale AFB, 9th IS and local communities," Heithold said.

A Travis Air Force Base spokesperson also told ABC News in a statement that the David Grant Medical Center is conducting "an exhaustive review" with outside experts in addition to an internal investigation to "ensure patient safety and quality care at DGMC remain paramount as always at the medical center."

Michael Meade, a medical malpractice attorney based in Sacramento said fewer than 2 percent of such surgeries result in similar complications.

Meade, who represented a client who lost a portion of his leg after an artery was damaged during surgery, said there are many questions that need to be answered in Read's case.

Among the most important things to determine, he said, are the experience level of the person performing the procedure, and whether there was a vascular surgeon on the base.

Whatever mistakes might have been made, federal law prevents members of the military or their families from suing the federal government for malpractice.

But the U.S. surgeon general is investigating what happened to Read.

In the meantime, Bill Read said he and his family are praying for his grandson to be healthy. He said he spent several days visiting Read.

"Papa, he called me papa," he said. "He wanted to hug me but he couldn't. I could just see the frustration, because he couldn't get up, he couldn't move."

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