A New York jury has found a Lewiston neurosurgeon liable for a botched spinal surgery that left a New York man in a wheelchair.
Dr. Victor T. Ho was ordered to pay the former patient $7.9 million. Because the two sides reached a settlement agreement before the verdict, however, his actual payment is capped at $1.9 million.
Ho is a spinal, brain and neurovascular surgeon with New England Neurosurgery in Lewiston, with surgical privileges at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center and courtesy privileges at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. At the time of the New York man's surgery in 2000, Ho was working for New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn.
Ho has been the subject of numerous malpractice suits in New York, most of which he's won. In 2005, New York regulators suspended his New York medical license for negligence involving a brain tumor biopsy, but then immediately stayed the suspension and placed him on probation for two years, according to that state's Administrative Review Board for Professional Medical Conduct.
During that probation, Ho received a valid Maine medical license and began working in Lewiston, according to state and hospital officials.
New England Neurosurgery is a private practice comprised of independent doctors who share the office space. St. Mary's Regional Medical Center spokesman Russ Donahue said his hospital knew Ho's New York license was on probation before it gave him hospital privileges.
"Dr. Ho was carefully credentialed through our medical staff and board procedure, as are all of our physicians. This was subject to state licensure, which he received," Donahue said.
Donahue said the hospital is still comfortable having Ho perform surgeries there, despite the recent malpractice verdict.
CMMC spokesman Randy Dustin did not know Monday whether that hospital had known about Ho's background in New York before it granted him the limited privileges of a courtesy staff member.
Through his office spokeswoman, Ho has declined to comment.
According to the St. Mary's Web site, Ho graduated from Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1976, did an internship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., and completed his neurosurgery residency at New York University School of Medicine in New York, N.Y.
In 2000, Ho performed spinal surgery on Marcel Paul, a 60-year-old New York man, at New York Methodist Hospital. Shortly after the operation, Paul had trouble moving his left side and needed to use a wheelchair. A month later, according to Paul's lawyer, Ron Burke, another surgeon found Ho had used an undersized bone plug to stabilize Paul's neck. Among other problems, the plug had migrated and was pushing on his spinal cord.
"He was never able to walk again," Burke said.
Paul sued. After a two-week trial, the jury found Ho lacked informed consent from the patient before performing the surgery and had, among other things, failed to place the appropriate bone graft and failed to order the appropriate tests to determine why Paul had problems with his left side after surgery, Burke said.
Although Paul claimed Ho also failed to monitor his motor functions during surgery, the jury found Ho had monitored him correctly.
The jury awarded Paul $7.9 million. Because the two sides had reached a settlement agreement before the verdict, however, Ho will pay $1.9 million and will not appeal the decision, the judge in the case said.
Ho has been the defendant in at least six other malpractice suits, according to Burke. Ho won four of those outright and a fifth through appeal, Burke said.
The New York court system's Web site lists two other malpractice suits pending against Ho.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, neurosurgeons get sued, on average, once every 18 months to three years. In any given year, one-third of neurosurgeons will have a case pending against them.
In 2005, New York disciplined Ho for simple negligence involving a patient with a brain lesion.
According to a 42-page report from the Administrative Review Board for Professional Medical Conduct, Ho biopsied the patient's brain lesion - an attempt to find out whether it was a tumor or a problem with blood vessels - but that biopsy didn't provide a diagnosis. After that biopsy, Ho failed to tell the patient there were additional ways to get a diagnosis, the board said. A month after the biopsy, the patient was unable to stand on her own and an MRI showed the lesion had grown so large that her brain was "significantly displaced" by it. Six weeks after the biopsy, Ho operated and found cancer.
The report said hearing committee members found no incompetence or gross negligence on Ho's part, but found simple negligence and deemed Ho "to be very arrogant, condescending and unwilling to own up to his mistakes." The report shows Ho was put on probation from March 2005 through March 2007.
Ho received a Maine medical license in November 2006.
Randal Manning, executive director of the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine, said his board carefully examined Ho's application and interviewed Ho, who was "upfront and straightforward" about his probation in New York. Because New York found him guilty of simple negligence, not gross negligence, the board found no reason to deny him a Maine license.
Ho has not been disciplined in Maine and his license here remains valid.
Ho joined New England Neurosurgeon in December 2006 and received privileges at St. Mary's in January 2007, both while still on probation in New York.
CMMC's spokesman did not know when Ho had received courtesy privileges at the hospital or what those privileges allow him to do within the hospital. CMMC records show Ho has never performed surgery there.