Surgeon Mistakenly Removes Woman’s Kidney
WELLINGTON, FLA – November 6, 2018
Thanks to a serious surgical mistake, one patient of the Wellington Regional Medical Center in Wellington, FL will be on disability for the rest of her life. Maureen Pacheco left without one of her fully functioning kidneys after a surgeon mistook it for a cancerous tumor and called an audible in the operating room during a routine back surgery.
Maureen Pacheco, then 51, checked into Wellington Regional Medical Center back in April 2016 to get the bones in her lower back fused in the wake of a car accident, the Palm Beach Post reported. This is a fairly common operation on the spine. Difficulties were not expected.
However, Dr. Ramon Vazquez spotted the organ — which he believed to be a tumor, declared an emergency and removed it. A month after the surgery, the center’s pathologist found that the removed "tumor" was a healthy kidney that had fallen into the pelvic cavity (pelvic dystopia of the kidney), according to a lawsuit obtained by the paper that was settled in September.
“As you can imagine, when someone goes in for a back surgery, she would never expect to wake up and be told when she’s just waking up from anesthesia, that one of her kidneys has been unnecessarily removed,” said Pacheco’s attorney, Donald J. Ward.
And what is more, Vazquez wasn’t even the one performing the back surgery. His job was to cut her open so surgeons could perform the operation.
It was also reported that she had an MRI before the surgery that pointed to the pelvic dystopia of the kidney. However, according to Vasquez's lawyer, his client was not aware of this at the time of the operation.
Florida’s Department of Health has since filed a complaint against Vasquez, saying he provided a “presumptive diagnosis of a gynecologic malignancy, lymphoma, and/or other metastatic disease.”
Vazquez, who has served as chairman of surgery at Palm Beach Medical Center since January and also has privileges at St. Mary’s and Good Samaritan medical centers, as well as Bethesda Memorial Hospital, could be required to a pay a fine, at best, or lose his medical license, at worst, according to the report.
Surgical mistakes like Vasquez’s are known as “wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors” and are termed “never events,” meaning they should never happen, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
“Few medical errors are as vivid and terrifying as those that involve patients who have undergone surgery on the wrong body part,” says the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
The agency has found that such errors occur in about 1 of 112,000 surgical procedures.
Prior to this complaint and the malpractice claim filed by Pacheco he had a clean disciplinary record, according to the report.
The malpractice insurers for Pacheco’s primary surgeons, Dr. John Britt and Dr. Jeffrey Kugler, settled for $250,000 apiece, the outlet reported. Pacheco’s back surgery was being done through the front of her body, so Vazquez was brought in as a general surgeon to expose the surgical site, a fairly common practice, Hall said.
Vazquez made a “presumptive diagnosis” when he noticed what he thought was a malignant pelvic mass once he prepped the patient’s lower back for the surgery, according to the Health Department’s complaint.
He clipped it and removed what he thought was a tumor, but a month later a pathologist at Wellington Regional confirmed the mass removed was, in fact, an intact pelvic kidney.
Wellington Regional did not return phone calls for comment.
The Health Department complaint, filed in December, said the cancer diagnosis was not related to the patient’s medical condition and “therefore medically unnecessary.”
Pelvic kidneys are perfectly fine renal organs that did not ascend to the normal abdomen region during fetal development.
In response to the lawsuit, Vazquez’s attorney put the blame on Wellington Regional for failing to inform him that the patient had a pelvic kidney.
A physician removing a functioning kidney by mistake is not an unknown medical error.
A patient mix-up led to a patient having her kidney removed at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA, in August 2016. That same year an Iowan woman underwent surgery at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, to have a mass removed from her adrenal gland but the doctor mistakenly removed her kidney instead.
That patient, Dena Knapp, developed stage-three kidney disease after the surgery. The physician is fighting her lawsuit, claiming he did not breach the standard of care.
The lawsuit filed by Pacheco gives only generic details about the consequences of losing one of her kidneys.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, people with one kidney for the most part live healthy, normal lives, though they have a chance of having high blood pressure and loss of kidney function later in life.
Some renal experts have said that donors may have a reduced life expectancy of about a year.
Hall said Pacheco’s body will be able to function with one kidney, but she is now more susceptible to chronic kidney disease and renal failure.