Early in my career as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, some co-workers and I met legendary heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, M.D. at his office in the Texas Medical Center.
Dr. DeBakey had a large rectangular conference table that was mostly covered with awards and plaques.
One, in particular, caught my eye—a plaque commemorating an award by the Surgeon General of the United States to Dr. DeBakey. It was probably from the 1950s or 1960s because the central part of the plaque was a black and white photo of the Surgeon General. What’s so memorable about the photo is that the Surgeon General had his knee propped up on a stool, with his elbow resting on his knee and his hand holding a cigarette up to his mouth.
When I saw that photo I thought to myself, “My how times have changed.”
That same thought came to mind when I read about the recent problems plaguing Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center’s storied heart transplant program.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently cited St. Luke’s with a violation for not having working defibrillator paddles available during a January 2018 heart transplant surgery. Think about that sentence for a moment. Of all types of patients who may need defibrillation, heart transplant patients would be at the top of the list. And a major hospital, like Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, that handles these complex surgeries should have working defibrillators and all necessary supplies immediately available in operating rooms.
The heart surgeon, Dr. Masahiro Ono, said that a defibrillator failed during a key stage of the transplant surgery and he had to pump the patient’s heart by hand while staff searched in the hospital for backup equipment. Dr. Ono said, “I was so frustrated. I tried my best to preserve the function of the heart, but it couldn’t make it.” The Medicare report said that operating room staff had to take apart and reassemble the defibrillator during the surgery. How strange and frightening!
The patient had to have his donor heart replaced with an artificial heart and went through almost 20 follow-up surgeries before he died two months later. He was one of three patients who died between January and May 2018, in the St. Luke’s heart transplant program.
A spokesperson for the hospital said that they followed “commonly held processes and standards of medical care.”
As an experienced medical malpractice attorney representing patients and family members, I’ve heard this type of excuse from hospitals more times that I could ever remember. When clients contact us to investigate surgical mishaps, we know how to get to the bottom of what really happened in the operating room and beyond.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.