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Maryland man wins malpractice lawsuit after unsuccessful surgery

A surgeon who insisted he had removed a patient's tumor, despite tests and reports to the contrary, was sued for medical malpractice by a Maryland man who lost his hearing as a result of the unsuccessful surgery.

The man had a benign tumor in a very hard-to-reach area of his ear canal. The tumor was pushing against his auditory nerves and would cause him to go deaf if it wasn't removed. A surgeon recommended a conventional surgery that had a 30 to 40 percent chance of failure. But the patient decided to try an alternative endoscopic procedure called retrosigmoid surgery, which was being performed by a doctor across the country who claimed a 98 percent success rate.

The doctor did the surgery and believed he had removed the tumor, but according to his attorney, ear tumors are so tiny that it was hard to know for sure. A post-op MRI scan showed the tumor was still present, but the surgeon told his patient that what the radiologist reading the scan actually saw was normal post-surgical scarring.

The patient was mailed two nearly identical pathology reports from the surgeon's office that described the surgical procedure. One report read "No tumor seen," but in the other report, "No" had been whited out to read "tumor seen." The doctor denied altering the report, but the patient ordered a new MRI from his original doctor, who determined the tumor was still there and removed it. The patient, who ultimately did go deaf, would likely have retained his hearing if he'd had the proper surgery done earlier, according to an expert witness' testimony.

The lawsuit against the surgeon accused him of medical malpractice, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The judge ruled the surgeon had used the wrong kind of surgery, failed to find the tumor, misled the patient into thinking the surgery had worked, misinterpreted the post-op MRI and misreported the pathology finding. The surgeon's appeal was denied and his attorney said the finding of fraud could prompt a medical board investigation.

Surgeons who fail to complete a surgery are not always guilty of malpractice. But using the wrong methods, misleading patients and altering their reports are very serious offenses with long-term consequences. People subjected to these types of malpractice have every right to seek compensation for their resulting medical problems.

Source: Outpatient Surgery Magazine, "Did Surgeon Cover Up His Failure to Remove Patient's Tumor?" Leigh Page, March 6, 2012

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