Healthy Kidney Removed During Back Procedure; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA


January 07, 2019

In This Article

What MRIs? Surgeon Accused of Overlooking Critical Scans

A Florida woman undergoing back surgery ended up losing one of her fully functioning kidneys, as a November story in the Palm Beach Post,[1] among other news outlets, reports.

For years after a car accident, Maureen Pacheco had been experiencing lower back pain. Then, about 2.5 years ago, she decided to undergo a spinal fusion at Wellington Regional Medical Center, in Wellington, Florida. On April 29, 2016, she checked into the facility, where two orthopedic surgeons would be performing the procedure, with an assist from a general surgeon.

It was the general surgeon's job to cut open Pacheco so that the orthopedic surgeons could access her lower back through the front of her body. This was fairly standard practice, although what happened next was anything but standard: Believing he spotted a possibly cancerous mass in her pelvis, the general surgeon clipped and removed it.

A few days later, a Wellington Regional pathologist confirmed that the mass was actually an intact and normal pelvic kidney that never ascended to the usual abdominal region during fetal development.

Two presurgical MRIs had indicated as much, but the general surgeon had neither reviewed the radiologic reports beforehand nor obtained the patient's consent for the excision, according to Pacheco's multiparty lawsuit. (The orthopedic surgeons have since settled for $250,000 apiece, paid for by their respective liability insurers.)

The general surgeon's attorney, Mark Mittelmark, told the Post that he blames Wellington Regional for the mistake, because it failed to inform his client before surgery of the MRI reports.

The suit against the general surgeon—who doesn't carry medical malpractice insurance—has been "settled on his behalf for a nominal amount due to the uncertainty of litigation," says Mittelmark, who adds that, in settling the claim against him, the surgeon in no way admits liability. (Florida law permits doctors to use other types of prearranged, secured assets to cover claims, including escrow accounts and bank-issued letters of credit.[2])

The story doesn't quite end there, however. The Florida Department of Health has filed an administrative complaint against the general surgeon, who until recently had had an unblemished disciplinary record. Still, the pending complaint could potentially have serious consequences, including the loss of his medical license.

Meanwhile, indications are that Pacheco should be able to function normally with one kidney, although, as the National Kidney Foundation points out, such patients could face problems down the road, including high blood pressure or a slight loss of kidney function.


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