Final Verdict: Surgical Error Loses Leg
In May 2019, a jury in Montgomery County held a Maryland surgeon responsible for putting an ER nurse in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Patricia Bent was a successful emergency room nurse for years prior to her surgery on August 11, 2014. She’d had recurrent back problems and sought treatment for four years, including injections and a prior surgical procedure. The pain on the right side of her back was corrected after surgical intervention on that side, but the pain on the left side of her back remained, and so the same physician who had performed the first surgery — Dr. Navinder Singh Sethi — arranged to have a repeat laminectomy on the left side.
The planned surgery, laminectomy, is a procedure where a skilled surgeon removes a portion of the bone in order to make additional space when damaged nerves and other tissue are under too much pressure. The Mayo Clinic describes laminectomy as follows:
Laminectomy is a surgery that creates space by removing the lamina — the back part of a vertebra that covers your spinal canal. Also known as decompression surgery, laminectomy enlarges your spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
Laminectomy is generally used only when more-conservative treatments — such as medication, physical therapy or injections — have failed to relieve symptoms. Laminectomy may also be recommended if symptoms are severe or worsening dramatically.
The initial surgery took place on August 11 of 2014, with follow-up twelve days later, on August 23. During and after this period, however, Bent experienced numbness in her right leg. It started in her hip and extended down to her foot, growing worse and worse until she was unable to feel anything from that leg.
Despite lengthy convalescence, including post-operative rehabilitation and ongoing physical therapy, she never regained sensation in her right leg. She had to use a walker or wheelchair at all times. At trial, experts explained that she could no longer work, as her job as an emergency room nurse required her to be on her feet. She could not drive herself and needed outside treatment and care. The loss of sensation also resulted in constant pain that would never be relieved.
During medical malpractice testimony in court, it was revealed that the surgeon had done a bilateral laminectomy rather than a left-sided laminectomy. In other words, he performed two procedures, one on each side. He had made the same incisions and procedures as he had already performed in 2013, on top of the old scar tissue. Bent’s experts explained that since she only had pain on her left side, there was no reason to perform multiple surgeries on both the left and the right.
Repeated surgeries in the same place involve the removal of old scar tissue, which greatly increases the odds of surgical injury. In this case, the surgery produced a dural tear and spinal leakage, damaging her spinal cord so significantly that she subsequently lost sensation in her right leg. The jury determined that the surgeon shown have known that repeat surgery on the right side was unnecessary, and awarded a judgment of more than $1.8 million. A medical attorney such as, Cohen & Cohen, P.C. can evaluate your case.