MD Charged With Manslaughter Now Faces Malpractice Suit for Performing the Wrong Brain Surgery

Alicia Ault

June 04, 2021

An Alabama neurosurgeon who was charged with manslaughter in the death of a third-year medical student is now facing a malpractice suit alleging he performed the wrong brain surgery.

The brain surgery patient's widow, Christine Metzger, is suing Jonathan Nakhla, MD, and his former employer, Infirmary Health System, for negligence and wrongful death, according to Mobile, Alabama-based television station WKRG.

Dennis Metzger was admitted to Mobile Infirmary Medical Center in December 2018 with a left frontal lobe brain tumor that had been confirmed on MRI. A cerebral angiogram, ordered by Nakhla, showed that a preliminary embolization was not possible, so Nakhla took Metzger to the operating room 5 days after he was first admitted.

The patient consented to "biopsy and debulking brain tumor," but, according to the lawsuit, Nakhla instead performed a bifrontal craniotomy and resected the tumor.

The surgeon documented that the tumor came out easily but that "the mass was extremely vascular and hemorrhagic." The suit alleges that Nakhla later "realized he performed the wrong surgery and either he himself crossed through the original disclosure to alter it...or directed someone else to do so."

Later that evening, Nakhla reportedly took the patient, who had become lethargic and nonresponsive, back to the operating room for emergency evacuation of a subdural hematoma. Metzger never regained consciousness and died within 4 days of the initial procedure.

Fall From Grace

Nakhla has had a rapid fall from grace since August 2020, when he was charged with manslaughter.

According to WKRG reporting, prosecutors said the neurosurgeon — who was 26 years old at the time — was driving more than 130 miles per hour in a 45 MPH zone and had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit when he swerved to avoid another car. He rolled his sports car multiple times, and the impact killed Nakhla's passenger, third-year medical student Samantha Thomas, who was 24.

Thomas' father sued Nakhla a few weeks after the accident, seeking punitive damages.

Nakhla, a graduate of Duke University School of Medicine, was first licensed in Alabama in 2018. He interned in neurologic surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Health System in New York City and participated in fellowships at both Einstein and Weill Cornell Medical College/New York–Presbyterian Hospital. Nakhla was a junior attending neurosurgeon at Brown University's Lifespan Health System, according to his curriculum vitae.

Soon after the manslaughter charge, Nakhla was fired from Mobile Infirmary, according to WKRG. He voluntarily surrendered his medical license in September 2020, according to the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland–based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Smithsonian.com, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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