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Anonymous tip prompts family's malpractice suit

We've discussed a number of Florida malpractice cases here, but the allegations in a California suit that has made national news seem particularly egregious. They involve a surgeon accused of leaving a patient with his chest cavity open in the hands of a physician's assistant during open-heart surgery while he went to a luncheon. Because of complications that arose after the surgeon left, according to the patient's family, the 72-year-old man has been in a vegetative state and confined to an acute care facility.

Although the incident happened in April 2012, the victim's family says they were not aware of any medical malpractice until the man's stepson received an anonymous call. That call alerted him him to a newspaper story about a state health department investigation into an incident at Fresno Community Regional Medical Center in which a surgeon left a patient during surgery. The anonymous caller claimed to have been in the operating room and to have witnessed the doctor's actions. Neither the state agency nor the medical center will confirm that the case in the report is this one. However, the family's attorney says the details and dates in the report match those of the victim's case.

According to the report, the surgeon instructed the physician's assistant to close up the man's chest, even though she did not have the qualifications to do so. According to the surgeon, he wanted to "give her extra practice." After she closed the patient, someone saw him bleeding from the chest. The operating room staff reportedly contacted the surgeon, who gave them instructions over the phone. Only when the patient's heart stopped did the doctor return to the medical center. He was able to save the man, but it had been 45 minutes since he had "coded," and his brain had already been damaged.

The medical center is denying the claims in the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the hospital says they are "surprised" that the family is filing a suit "more than 20 months later." However, in this case, as in many malpractice cases, victims and families are unaware that medical complications were caused by negligence. The earlier that families can begin a malpractice suit, generally, the better the evidence will be - particularly if an autopsy is necessary. Personal injury attorneys may advise people on their options when they believe they or a loved one have been the victim of malpractice.

Source: ABC News, "Man Left Brain Damaged After Doctor Allegedly Abandons Man's Open-Heart Surgery" Sydney Lupkin, Jan. 15, 2014

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