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$1.5 million goes to gastric patient in Iowa

Posted on Sep 20, 2006

$1.5 million goes to gastric patient A jury decides a former D.M. weight-loss surgeon was slow to stop infection. BY JEFF ECKHOFF AND TONY LEYS REGISTER STAFF WRITERS September 19, 2006 A Polk County District Court jury awarded $1.5 million Monday to a Des Moines woman who contended that her weight-loss operation was botched by a controversial surgeon. The jury decided that Dr. Akella Chendrasekhar acted too slowly after patient Jody L. Moore showed signs of a dangerous infection caused by an intestinal leak following the gastric-bypass surgery. "I guess I'm happy to see that he is being held accountable, which was the purpose of the lawsuit," Moore, 43, said following the verdict. Chendrasekhar's lawyer could not be reached for comment Monday. Moore's lawyer, Terrance Brown, said the symptoms of the infection appeared the day after Moore's surgery on May 12, 2003. "Our argument to the jury was that he should have gone in on the 13th or 14th, when the signs of a leak first appeared," Brown said. Instead, Chendrasekhar waited until May 16, the lawyer said. Brown said his client spent 18 days in a coma and was hospitalized for weeks. He said Moore continues to suffer pain in her stomach and has endured multiple follow-up surgeries. Brown said Moore already was disabled from a back injury she suffered years ago. She underwent the gastric-bypass surgery because she hoped losing weight would help her back, he said. The verdict Monday was the first to go against Chendrasekhar, who was cleared in three other cases that went to trial. He or his former medical practice, the Iowa Clinic, reached undisclosed settlements with three other patients or their families. Chendrasekhar said in 2003 that he would no longer perform gastric-bypass operations after disclosures that at least six of his patients had died of complications. Chendrasekhar now practices medicine in New York City. He has expressed sorrow for the patients who died, but he has defended the surgeries he performed on obese, often fragile patients. Besides lawsuits, he also faces professional charges brought by the Iowa Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses and regulates physicians. The board charged him with incompetence last month. A hearing on the complaint was set for November. Gastric-bypass is an increasingly common surgery, which involves reducing the size of the stomach and rerouting the intestines. Many patients call it a lifesaver, saying it helped them lose hundreds of pounds. But the procedure can be risky, because intestinal leaks can cause dangerous infections. Chendrasekhar practiced at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, which announced in 2004 that its bariatric surgery program was being suspended following the string of deaths. The operations resumed there last winter, with a different doctor leading the program.

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