Today I read about a 43-year-old woman who died shortly after a gastric bypass surgery. She was morbidly obese and medically cleared for gastric bypass, a surgery that helps some patients lose and keep off weight.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I’ve handled tons of cases involving bariatric/weight-loss surgery negligence, including procedures like lap band, Roux-en-Y, gastric bypass, and gastric imbrication, just to name a few. Over the years, it seems like some procedures have been fads that come and go. Currently, though, the most popular weight-loss surgery is the gastric bypass.
Regardless of the type of bariatric procedure that the surgeon recommends and the patient undergoes, in my experience, patients typically run into problems in the first week after surgery and find it difficult to get surgeons to take their complaints seriously, or even consider them.
According to the medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuit that was filed, that’s essentially what happened to this unfortunate lady. On the day of her surgery, everything looked fine. The next day, though, hospital staff noted that she had blood clots. A day later, they summoned a medical emergency team because she had low blood pressure (hypertension) and abdominal pain.
When the surgeon was notified, he felt there was no need for imaging and was fine with her staying on the floor.
The surgeon’s alleged decision not to order any diagnostic radiology studies is a medical mistake that I frequently encounter when reviewing cases. In some instances, surgeons don’t give much thought at all to the patient’s complaints of pain or other symptoms—they just write it off as part of the normal recovery process. In other instances, they use quick and easy x-ray studies, like a barium swallow or gastrografin, which aren’t as reliable as CT scans are for identifying perforations, punctures, or obstructions.
In this lady’s case, she ended up having a bowel obstruction. The lawsuit says that about two hours after the surgeon decided against sending her for imaging, a different medical team evaluated her and ordered a CT scan. Sure enough, she had a bowel obstruction. They transferred her to the intensive care unit (ICU), but it was too late. She died within a few hours.
It’s sad to think that this poor woman lost her life after making a medical decision to try to lead a healthier life. I’ve filed lawsuits and taken the depositions of many surgeons, but it’s hard to say for sure what went wrong with this particular surgeon’s decision-making.
If you are considering a bariatric or weight-loss procedure, I recommend looking carefully at your surgeon’s qualifications. Some surgeons have little to no specialized training on these types of procedures. For instance, I sued and deposed a surgeon from Conroe, Texas, and learned that his only training for a certain type of procedure was from a weekend in Tijuana. He didn’t mention anything about that to his patients, I’m sure!
Additionally, after the surgery, if you feel like your recovery is going in the wrong direction, be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Insist on attention from your surgeon. Ask if a CT scan would be helpful. Many surgeons like to lump patients together for group follow-up visits after a bariatric procedure. In a sense, they run patients through like an assembly line. While it’s reasonable for them to expect that every patient will encounter some level of pain, remember that you know your body and your pain better than anyone, including the surgeon. Be persistent!
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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.