family claims egregious medical malpractice and privacy violation

In August 2007, a Pennsylvania man underwent a coronary revascularization procedure at a Philadelphia hospital. He died shortly after the surgery. In June 2010, the family received an anonymous tip which revealed what appeared to be medical malpractice, gross misconduct and an egregious violation of patient privacy.

Not only did appalling negligence by the cardiac surgeon and the hospital cause the man’s death, the family alleges, the surgeon secretly videotaped the procedure and allowed it to be shown to his 7-year-old daughter’s elementary school class.

The family has filed suit against the cardiac surgeon and the hospital for medical malpractice, wrongful death, battery and invasion of privacy.

Cardiologist was entertaining his daughter during and after surgery; left a non-physician assistant in charge of closing and monitoring patient

According to the complaint, the cardiac surgeon performing the coronary revascularization brought his 7-year-old daughter to the hospital that day and concealed that fact from the patient.

After performing the bulk of the surgery, the cardiologist “left the operating room with his 7 year old daughter and allowed a ‘non physician’ assistant … to close and monitor the patient.”

The patient’s blood pressure dropped precipitously. When the surgeon returned to the hospital to find his patient on the verge of death, the family says, he tried to insert an intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP), but he had no specific training on that procedure and botched it.

Family unaware of surgical error until tipped off anonymously

After an anonymous caller advised the family to investigate the circumstances of the man’s death, the family discovered even more disturbing facts.

First, the family learned that, well before the deadly surgery, the hospital had collected two years’ worth of data on intra-aortic balloon pump insertion procedures. Although that data showed that this particular cardiologist had a “substantially higher than expected mortality and morbidity rates on the procedures in question than any other surgeon listed in the entire State of Pennsylvania,” the hospital took no action and allowed the man to perform that procedure.

Second, they learned that the cardiac surgeon had illegally videotaped the surgery without obtaining the patient’s informed consent. The family consulted with the Department of Health and Human Services and the former Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, who both backed up the family’s claim that the videotaping was illegal.

Furthermore, despite the fact that the tape showed a procedure ending in a wrongful death, the videotape made its way into the hands of several people at the surgeon’s daughter’s school. Multiple people, including the child’s classmates, allegedly saw the tape.

A wrongful death caused by surgical malpractice is enough of a tragedy without an outrageous invasion of privacy causing the survivors additional emotional distress. The man left behind three children and six grandchildren who must all now live with their loved one’s death being used as a prop for elementary school children. They are seeking damages from both the surgeon and the hospital for medical malpractice, invasion of privacy and battery.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Heart Surgery Video Got a Grammar School Screening, Family Claims,” Reuben Kramer, April 20, 2011

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