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Examples of the Worst Medical Errors

March 29, 2023

Medical malpractice happens when a hospital, doctor, or other health care professional—through a negligent act or omission—causes an injury to a patient. This negligence might be from mistakes in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management. Such errors can lengthen recovery, create new physical complications, and even result in death.

Some mistakes are incredibly horrible. Here’s are some of the worst medical mistakes in recent history.

Rhode Island Surgeons Perform Brain Operations on the Wrong Side

In 2007, a couple of surgeons at a Rhode Island Hospital operated on the wrong side of patients’ brains three separate times. A neurologist drilled into the right side of a patient’s skull when scans clearly showed bleeding present on the left. The hospital received a reprimand and $50,000 fine for the incident from the Rhode Island Department of Health. A few months later, a patient died a few weeks after another doctor performed brain surgery on the wrong side of his head.

This prompted the state to order the hospital to take a number of actions to make certain that such mistakes wouldn’t happen again. This included an independent review of its neurosurgery practices and better verification from doctors of surgery plans.

“We are extremely concerned about this continuing pattern,” Director of Health David R. Gifford said in a written statement. “While the hospital has made improvements in the operating room, they have not extended these changes to the rest of the hospital.”

The hospital said it was “re-evaluating its training and policies,” as well as providing more oversight, giving nursing staff the power to ensure procedures are followed, and other steps. After the major mistakes, the state ordered the hospital to develop a neurosurgery checklist that includes information about the location of the surgery and a patient’s medical history, and to put in place a plan to train staff on the new checklist.

Surgeon Removes Wrong Leg

On February 20, 1995, 51-year-old Willie King was scheduled to have his right foot amputated as a result of diabetes-related circulatory disease. During the operation, the surgeon realized he was in the process of removing the wrong foot—but it was too late to stop.

The surgeon testified that he learned of his error from a nurse as he was still cutting through the leg of the patient. After reviewing the patient’s file, she began to shake and cry. But by that point, he said, there was no turning back.

“I tried to recover from the sinking feeling I had,” he testified.

King knew something was wrong in the recovery room of University Community Hospital when he was awakened by a surgeon asking how his leg felt.

“That’s when I discovered it,” King said. “I said, “Doctor, that’s the wrong leg.’ ”

The surgeon was speechless.

A number of medical errors, including incorrect notations, led to this patient’s wrongful amputation. The surgeon who performed the surgery only received a $10,000 fine and the loss of his medical license for six months. But King sued University Community Hospital and the surgeon involved for a combined $1.2 million.

“There’s a problem there somewhere that needs to be corrected,” King said, “and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know how to go about it.”

Abdominal Surgery Leads to Suicide

In the two weeks before Sherman Sizemore committed suicide, he believed that people were trying to bury him alive.

Being wide awake and unable to scream for help during surgery is a nightmare-turned-reality for thousands of patients every year. The phenomenon, called “anesthetic awareness,” renders a patient completely aware and able to feel pain but unable to move or speak. This happened in 2006 and reportedly contributed to the suicide of Sizemore, a West Virginia pastor.

An anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetist gave Sizemore paralyzing drugs to prevent his muscles from jerking and twitching during the surgery. However, they failed to give him general anesthesia to render him unconscious until 16 minutes after the first cut into his abdomen. The family says he suffered excruciating pain.

In addition, the lawsuit says that the patient wasn’t sure he hadn’t been properly anesthetized and was plagued by doubts about whether his memories were real.

The lawsuit, filed against Raleigh Anesthesia Associates by two of Sizemore’s daughters also says that in the two weeks after his surgery, Sizemore couldn’t sleep, refused to be left  by himself, suffered nightmares, and said that people were trying to bury him alive.

He took his own life two weeks later.

“It’s the first time I know of anyone succeeding in taking their own lives because of this, but suicidal thoughts are not all that uncommon among such patients”, said Carol Weihrer, president of the Virginia-based Anesthesia Awareness Campaign, which she founded after her own experience with anesthesia awareness.

Former SNL Star Dana Carvey Nearly Dies Twice

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Dana Carvey nearly died twice when doctors bypassed the wrong artery in his heart. The Wayne’s World comedian had to undergo emergency surgery to bypass the legitimately-clogged artery and repair the damage to the first.

The surgeon said it was an “honest mistake,” but Carvey didn’t agree. He sued the doctor for $7.5 million citing the seriousness of the medical mistake and the nearly two-year recovery period.

“This lawsuit, from the beginning, was about accountability and doing everything I could to make sure that it wouldn’t happen to someone else,” Carvey said. “Both my wife and I are very satisfied with the outcome and bringing resolution to this case.”

Speak with an Experienced Michigan Medical Malpractice Attorney

For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Michigan, contact Buchanan Firm.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after hours, at home, or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!