A woman undergoing surgery for back pain left hospital missing a kidney after it was mistaken for a tumour.
Maureen Pacheco settled a lawsuit over the error by Dr Ramon Vazquez, who was tasked with cutting her open at the beginning of an operation to fuse together parts of the 51-year-old’s spine at a Florida hospital.
The surgeon made the decision to remove what he thought was a cancerous tumour after discovering the pelvic kidney, a functioning organ not located where kidneys are normally set in the abdomen.
Ms Pacheco had no say over whether it was taken out of her body in April 2016.
“He just took my life and dismissed it,” she said.
“If he would have looked at the MRIs that were given to him, he would have realised.”
Ms Pacheco said she was now fearful over future complications from the removal, saying a kidney transplant or dialysis is always in the back of her mind.
Errors such as wrongfully removing an organ are categorised as “wrong site, wrong procedure, wrong patient errors”, categorised by US health authorities and the NHS as “never events”.
While such events should, by definition, never happen, they are not infrequently recorded.
Between April and September this year, 96 incidences of wrong site surgery were recorded, including the biopsy of the wrong breast, an ovary being removed in error, and the removal of the wrong side of a patient’s colon.
To prevent incidents like these all hospitals implement procedures, such as clearly marking the body part to be operated on, that must be followed to prevent human error having catastrophic effects.
Dr Vazquez says the Wellington regional medical centre did not inform him that Ms Pacheco had a pelvic kidney. He had an unblemished record before the incident.
The case has been settled on his behalf for a “nominal amount”, according to his lawyer Mark Mittelmark, who stressed the doctor did not admit liability in admitting to a settlement.
Florida’s department of health has now filed an administrative complaint against Dr Vazquez, a process that could result in penalties ranging from losing his medical license to being fined.
It is understood he does not have medical malpractice insurance, so any payments will be made from his own pocket.