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Surgeon removes wrong kidney leaving cancerous kidney still within the patient. How can this happen? Don't they know the difference between left and right?

Most people are ambivalent about getting a surgical procedure despite the high level of technology available in today’s modern medical world. Why does this fear still exist despite the advancements in technology? Many say it is because of the high level of surgical ineptitude and carelessness that still controls the surgical world. Countless stories are circulating about surgeons removing the wrong organ. Are they simply careless or do they not know their left from their right?

CBS news reports on one man whose surgeon recently removed the wrong kidney from his body.

What would you do if your surgeon removed a normal, healthy organ from your body and left a defective one behind? Mr. Hermes is facing that nightmare today after his surgeon removed his healthy kidney instead of his cancerous one.

He filed a case for malpractice and gross negligence against the surgeon and the hospital. How did the surgical staff commit such a huge error? Apparently they failed to read Mr. Hermes pathology report properly, a task that was supposed to be the simplest one out of the whole process. As a consequence of this mistake, Mr. Hermes has to keep his cancerous kidney but a portion of it was removed due to the cancer. Mr. Hermes is only fifty-five years old.

CBS contacted the doctor and hospital for a comment but did not receive a reply. How does anyone survive after such a grave error is made? What is Mr. Hermes going to do? He is in a state of limbo waiting for his new medical team to tell him the next step. Mr. Hermes will either need dialysis, a transplant, and/or extremely expensive drugs in order to survive.

Mr. Hermes told CBS, “I'm getting to the point where I should be enjoying life and thinking about retirement and not thinking about a transplant. It's pretty emotional.” His wife also commented on the situation saying, “I'm trying to be uplifting and positive. But I know that at any time his kidney could stop working.” Mrs. Hermes is also worried about Mr. Hermes acquiring a serious infection.

Wrong organ removal is not the only form of carelessness to be concerned about today. Another issue coming to light is whether your surgical team is even paying attention during your surgery. What would you do if you found out your surgeon was texting while you were on the operating table? How many medical errors do you think arise from this?

Fox news reports on a surgeon who was 'sexting' during surgeries.  One surgeon has been suspended for sexual misconduct after his hospital employer found out that he was sexting during surgeries. He was also using patients’ medical images for his own sexual gratification.

This doctor "...frequently exchanged personal and often sexually explicit text messages while in surgery. On a typical day during that period...he worked as an anesthesiologist for medical procedures like cesarean deliveries while sending as many as 45 sexually charged texts. He also obtained medical records containing images of a woman with whom he was conducting an affair under false pretenses, accessing the visual materials not for medical purposes but in order to view images of the patient for his own sexual gratification,” according to Fox.

Health officials are taking the issue very seriously and launched a full investigation. Whether or not the hospital has the right safety policies in place is also being questioned. Fox reports, “The commission accused [the anesthesiologist] of tarnishing the reputation of the medical profession by sending color ‘selfies’ to the same woman in which he appeared in hospital scrubs, wearing his hospital identification and exposing his genitals. He met secretly with the woman in the doctor’s lounge at the hospital to arrange for sexual encounters during a period he represented himself as her treating physician and prescribed her medications, according to the commission.”

The commission is particularly upset with the fact that patient safety was compromised. And they said the worst part is the reason for that compromise in safety- the doctor’s preoccupation with sexual matters. One frustrated health official issued a statement saying, “He’s supposed to be focusing on the patient during surgery.”

While it sounds like the medical community is seriously lacking in competent doctors, you should not lose all hope just yet. There are still plenty of responsible doctors out there.

ABC news reports on the innovative techniques of one renowned trauma surgeon. Dr. Rhee served in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Navy. And he creatively found a way to incorporate his techniques from the battlefield to his current position at a private hospital where he is the chief of trauma and emergency surgery.

Dr. Rhee explained what types of incidents he faced on the battlefield, which inspired him to become a better surgeon, “In the military, the injuries are quite different than the civilian aspect and people die from these bombs blowing up, arms and legs off. We were in Ramadi in Iraq … it was one of my first really bigger mass casualties. When the first six casualties came in they were marines, six marines, 12 legs, and every one of those guys had a tourniquet on at the thigh.”

Dr. Rhee applies his warzone skills to treating trauma patients at home more quickly and efficiently. Not only does Dr. Rhee devote his life to his patients, but he also takes the time to train other doctors in becoming more skilled and responsible. ABC explains, “Rhee, who was working at a trauma unit in Los Angeles, ran a special program to bring military doctors up to speed, exposing them to the types of injuries they would encounter in Afghanistan and later, Iraq.”

Dr. Rhee commented on his training program saying why it is important, “The people that we bring in from the reserves are people that haven’t been doing trauma. It’s like taking a guy who’s been flying a crop duster and expecting them to fly a jet airplane.” He gives special importance to teaching surgeons how to treat wounds that would have earlier been assumed to be fatal.

ABC reports, “War has taught trauma surgeons to how to approach treating wounds that once might have been considered fatal. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is living proof. As the head of the trauma center that cared for Giffords, Rhee oversaw her care after a lone gunman shot her in the head, as well as the care of others who were seriously wounded that day.” Dr. Rhee took a very specific and careful approach in treating Giffords. He realized that he needed to operate often on her brain in order to achieve maximum results. Dr. Rhee understands that he basically operates on the most important part of the body- the brain- which is the control system of the whole network. He might be an outlier in the medical community right now (as it is hard to find excellence these days) but he is proof that it is not impossible. 

Dr. Rhee offers statistics on survival rates in brain surgeries from serious wounds and what talented surgeons have realized, “The survival rate from being shot in the brain was only 10 percent but now at least in our institution we’re up to about 46 percent. That’s because our surgeons and our neurosurgeons have worked together to be very aggressive on who we operate on … The war that we had in Iraq showed us that when we operate more often on these people shot in the brain the survival rate is higher.”

Surgery can be a difficult process and while there are various justifiable reasons to be concerned about whether your surgeon is competent and careful, it is also important to keep in mind that there are good surgeons out there as well. It is still important to do your homework (background check) before choosing a hospital and a surgeon for your procedure. So, before you choose a particular surgeon or facility ask the surgeon how many times he has done that particular surgery. Also ask general questions about his experience and see if you can find any reviews from former patients. After all, you have to be your own best advocate to ensure that you get the best treatment possible.


Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer