She promised him she could do the surgery.
She promised to she was competent.
She promised him she had experience doing this particular facial surgery.
She reassured him.
He asked whether he needed a sub specialist.
She reassured him that he need not go to an eye specialist.
She said no.
What she should have said was yes. She should have said go see a neuro-ophthalmologist who has much more experienced handling these surgical procedures.
Instead, she reassured him.
She promised him she had plenty of experience handling this type of case.
In reality, she had done this procedure less than five times in her 30 year career.
But this was not something she shared with the patient.
Her surgical incompetence cost this patient vision in one eye.
This patient is now permanently blind all because this ophthalmologist promised him and reassured him that she was fully capable of performing this procedure.
Turns out, she wasn't.
He was mugged one day in Brooklyn and was hit in the face. He suffered a fractured orbit of his eye.
The muscle that controls movement of the eye from left to right and right to left got stuck within the broken bones in his face.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with his vision.
The problem was that the muscle was stuck, which meant that his eye was pointing outward to the right. In order to fix this problem the muscle needed to be removed from the fractured bones in his face. The bones then needed to be repaired and held in place.
Remember, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this man's vision even after he suffered a fracture to his face.
This was a muscular issue simply because the muscle that controls eye movement was trapped in the fracture.
The patient should have been referred to a subspecialist in the field of neuro-opthalmology. Instead, his regular eye doctor reassured the patient that she could handle this “simple procedure.”
Unfortunately for the patient, this was not a simple procedure.
The patient didn't know why he was blind
When the patient came to me, he had no vision in one eye. He could not understand how he went into surgery with good vision and came out not being able to see. His eye doctor kept making excuses. His eye doctor was blaming his blindness on the different risks associated with this surgery.
What his eye doctor didn't tell him was that his blindness had absolutely nothing to do with the risks of the surgery.
In fact, going blind was simply not a risk of this surgery. At all.
Had this procedure been done properly and competently, this patient would've had his facial bones put back together and the muscle that controlled his eye movement would have been released and the patient would have been fine and lived a normal life.
So here's what really happened...
After receiving assurances from this ophthalmologist that she could do the surgery, the patient agrees and schedules the surgery.
Fast-forward to the operating room...
During surgery the eye surgeon releases the muscle from the fracture. She then tests the muscle to make sure it is still functioning and has blood flow and works. It does.
She then begins to fix the bones in his orbit. In order to attach the broken fragments together, she uses a titanium plate known as a silastic implant to hold the bones together with screws.
The eye doctor completes the surgery, bandages the patient's eye and places a patch over his eye.
The patient remains in the hospital overnight and the next day when she goes in to check on him, she removes the patch and the bandage.
The eye doctor asks the million dollar question...
“What do you see?”
His response was remarkable.
“Did you take the patch off yet? I can't see anything.”
The doctor immediately starts checking the patient's eye with a flashlight and then with her instruments that allow her to look into the patient's eye and visualize his cornea. She cannot see or understand why the patient has no vision. She immediately realizes that she needs to get an emergency CAT scan to determine what if anything is going on with his vision.
She calmly tells the patient that she needs to do more tests, without revealing her true fears.
A CAT scan taken later that night tells all.
The CAT scan showed that the titanium implant used to connect the broken bone fragments together was very close to and in fact looks like it cut the optic nerve. Again, without revealing this information to the patient, she proceeds to tell him that he needs emergency surgery the next morning trying to figure out what's going on.
Never does she reveal to the patient what the radiologist observed on the CAT scan and what she herself observed from reading and interpreting his CAT scan.
The following morning she takes the patient back to the operating room.
Her intraoperative findings are remarkable.
She finds that the optic nerve has been transected by the titanium implant that she put in the day before. She thinks, incorrectly ,that by moving the titanium plate and repositioning it, that will somehow allow the optic nerve to regenerate and give this man back his vision.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It wasn't until we brought a lawsuit and I had an opportunity to question this eye doctor did I learn how truly incompetent this eye surgeon was.
Not only did she not recognize how close the implant was to the optic nerve, but failed to even consider the possibility that the implant could cause damage to the adjacent optic nerve.
She also failed to recognize that she cut the optic nerve during surgery.
If she had recognized there was damage to the optic nerve during surgery, she could have called in a neuro-ophthalmologist for consultation and assistance which may have prevented some of the damage.
I also learned during her pretrial questioning that neuro-ophthalmologists perform this type of procedure on a regular basis. She on the other hand, only performed this particular procedure less than five times over the course of 30 years.
When I asked her who had more experience and who would have a greater likelihood of success performing this procedure, she acknowledged that a neuro-ophthalmologist would have more experience and a greater likelihood of success.
What happened after the second surgery?
After the second surgery, the patient again was bandaged and a patch placed over his eye. The following day, the eye surgeon returned back to the patient's room and removed the patch and the bandage. She again asked the million dollar question...
“So, what do you see?”
His response was predictable.
“I don't see a damn thing. What did you do to me?”
Remarkably, she never admitted her errors to the patient. Instead, she made excuses and placed all the blame on the different risks associated with this type of surgery.
You might be asking yourself whether it would have made a difference if she simply owned up to the fact that she screwed up.
In this case, the answer would have been no. It would not have made a difference. This man lost his vision simply because his eye doctor was incompetent and wanted to perform this surgery instead of sending him to a qualified neuro-ophthalmologist who was better qualified to handle this type of case.
Did the defense want to settle quickly?
You might think that with such glaring violations of basic standards of medical care and departures from good and accepted practice that the doctor and her insurance company would have wanted to settle this case shortly after her pretrial testimony. That would be wishful thinking.
In fact, the doctor and her insurance company refused to acknowledge that they did anything wrong. They refused to enter into any settlement negotiations until we were sent to pick a jury in Kings County Supreme Court.
Never mind the fact that the defense was unable to find any expert to support their defense and support the actions of their eye doctor. We had a well known, well-qualified medical expert who felt confident that we would be successful if we went to trial.
The defense finally owns up to what happened
While waiting to be sent out to begin jury selection, this was the very first time that the defense recognized their risk for going to trial. It also became painfully obvious that they had no medical expert to support their defense that they did everything correctly.
As a direct result of this by doctor's surgical incompetence, it cost her $775,000. It cost this patient loss of vision in one eye.
Let me ask you this question...
If someone offered you $775,000 in exchange for your vision, would you take it?
I didn't think so.