‘Hannibal Lecter’ surgeon’s license not suspended for months

If you heard of a doctor called “the worst surgeon I’ve ever seen” by a colleague and repeatedly compared to fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter by another, you would not exactly be rushing to his office. In fact, you would probably be wondering how a physician with a reputation for committing horrific surgical errors on multiple patients would be allowed to keep his job.

Unfortunately, this is not the plot of a novel. This is a real-life story, in which a medical board in another state took more than a year to revoke the license of the neurosurgeon described above. Despite causing at least four cases of paralysis and two deaths, the surgeon was allowed to continue during the board’s investigation, until it took away his license in June.

The surgeon’s incompetence became apparent almost immediately after he was hired at an area hospital. A doctor who assisted him on a spinal fusion, a relatively simple procedure, later recalled that the surgeon’s work was “pathetic” and on the level of “a first- or second-year neurological resident.” That patient’s back pain worsened and he lost sensation in one leg as a result of multiple surgical errors.

Three weeks later, the surgeon attempted the same procedure on a childhood friend of his. This time, the result was even worse: the patient woke up paralyzed in all four limbs. An investigator blamed the paralysis on “surgical misadventures” performed by the surgeon.

After that, the hospital suspended him for 30 days, but he was free to practice elsewhere. Tragically, one of his next patients died shortly after surgery — again, she had come in for a basic spinal operation.

Later that year, a doctor filed a complaint against the surgeon with the medical board, which is necessary in that state to begin an investigation. However, the investigation did not prevent the surgeon from being granted privileges at another hospital.

His incompetence continued at the new facility. One patient died and another suffered partial paraplegia after the doctor badly botched her operation. The hospital fired him, but he still did not lose his license.

In our next post, we will discuss how long it took for the board to revoke the doctor’s license, and why.

Source: Texas Observer, “Anatomy of a Tragedy,” Saul Elbein, Aug. 28, 2013

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