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Surgery patient sues Riverside doctor, hospital, claiming wrong kidney removed

by John Gomez | Last Updated: September 4, 2009

September 3, 2009 – Francisco Torres, a retired assembly line worker is suing a Riverside hospital and doctor, claiming that they removed his healthy kidney instead of the diseased one. He has to endure dialysis every three days to stay alive.

On July 14, Dr. H. Erik Wahlstrom, who was performing surgery at Parkview Community Hospital Medical Center, was to remove Mr. Torres’ left kidney, Torres’ lawsuit states. Instead, Wahlstrom removed Torres’ healthy right kidney before realizing the mistake.

Hospital officials have denied responsibility.  State regulators have confirmed they are investigating a complaint about a surgery performed on a patient’s wrong body part at Parkview Community Hospital, but they declined to release details. They would not say who made the complaint about the incident, which medical experts call wrong-site surgeries.

In February 2009, according to records from the Medical Board of California and San Bernardino Superior Court, Dr. Wahlstrom settled a previous malpractice lawsuit, a result of an arbitration agreement, for almost $2 million. This settlement was result of a 2005 kidney transplant he performed becoming infected, causing the patient to reject the organ and require its removal, court documents state.

Mr. Torres’ lawsuit, filed Friday in Riverside Superior Court, accuses the hospital and Wahlstrom of malpractice, battery and failure to disclose Wahlstrom’s record with the Medical Board of California.

The state Medical Board lists Wahlstrom as having a Redlands address and a valid medical license. He still is on Parkview Community Hospital’s medical staff, according to the hospital’s web site.

Wahlstrom founded the Southern California Transplantation Institute at Riverside Community Hospital, where he practices.

Ralph Montano, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said Wednesday that this is the first wrong-site surgery complaint to be filed against Parkview Community Hospital.

The department started documenting such incidents on July 1, 2007, when the state enacted a law to prevent them.

Jack Cheevers, spokesman for the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ San Francisco office, said his agency also received the complaint about the hospital and authorized an inspection. Hospitals rely heavily on Medicare & Medicaid because the agency pays for a significant portion of patient care.

Health care officials and evaluators call wrong-site, wrong-procedure and wrong-patient surgeries “never events” because they never are supposed to happen. As of June, 837 wrong-site surgeries had been reported to The Joint Commission, the nation’s leading health care facility evaluator.

Parkview Community Hospital is among the 16,000 health care organizations and programs accredited and certified by The Joint Commission.

Dr. Robert Wise, vice president of the commission’s standards division, said Wednesday he didn’t know details about Torres’ complaint or whether it had been reported to the commission.

“We would view this as a pretty serious event,” he said, adding that a medical staff “should never be taking out the wrong kidney.

“I’m sure everyone is feeling very badly about this,” Wise said.

Accredited hospitals, including Parkview Community Hospital, are supposed to follow commission standards to prevent wrong-site surgeries, he said, including a pre-operation verification process.

The surgical area is supposed to be marked, and everyone involved in the surgery must “huddle” and unanimously agree with what is going to happen, Wise said.

“If taken seriously, it should be quite effective,” he said.

Despite protocol, the commission receives about 50 reports per month about “never events,” Wise said.

Mr. Torres, who was at the hospital to have a cancerous mass removed from his left kidney.  Then, one day before surgery, according to medical records supplied by Mr. Torres’ attorney, a hospital nurse and Wahlstrom both wrote notes in Torres’ chart, indicating that his right kidney was to be removed.

It’s unclear whether the hospital practices a pre-surgery protocol and whether the medical staff followed it before Torres’ surgery, Watkins said.

Torres and his son, Jorge Torres, said they did not know which kidney was to be removed and did not select Wahlstrom to perform the surgery. Torres said he would not have allowed Wahlstrom to operate if he had known about Wahlstrom’s 2005 malpractice complaint.

“I trusted the hospital,” Francisco Torres said. “I thought they were presenting the best doctors possible.”

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