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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Alarming Allegations Against Spinal Surgeon

VENTURA, Calif. (CN) - A much-sued neurosurgeon took kickbacks from a spine hardware manufacturer and did needless spinal surgeries on elderly patients that led to infection, organ damage and death, one of his former patients claims in court.

Vicenta Aguirre sued Dr. Aria O. Sabit in Superior Court, alleging fraud, deceit, concealment and negligence.

Sabit owned an interest in Reliance Medical and Apex Medical Technologies, medical products distributors, the lawsuit states. The companies are not parties to the complaint.

More than two dozen malpractice lawsuits were filed against Sabit for his 18 months in Ventura and the California Medical Board disciplined him, leading the Department of Justice to investigate physician-owned distributorships, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 17.

The Medical Board claimed that Sabit performed unnecessary spinal surgeries on three of the five patients it investigated, according to the Journal. And "Federal prosecutors are looking into whether his financial interest in Apex made him more prone to operate or to do bigger and riskier surgeries than necessary, people familiar with the probe say," according to the Sept. 17 Journal article.

Sabit owned 20 percent of Apex Medical Technologies and received average profit distributions of $12,000 a month, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sabit moved to Michigan in early 2011.

In the latest lawsuit against him, Aguirre claims she was 65 and suffering from partial paralysis, diabetes, hypertension and dementia when Sabit treated her at the Community Memorial Hospital in late 2010.

She claims the hospital knew before it secured her consent for surgery that Sabit was "not competent" and this his patients suffered "unusually high infection rates," according to the complaint.

The lawsuit then reels off 16 serious accusations against the doctor:

"a. that defendant Sabit's patients were experiencing unusually high infection rates;

"b. that defendant Sabit employed unsterile techniques and broke sterile protocol;

"c. that Sabit had been identified by the medical staff as a danger to patients;

d. that [as] a result of the infection rates, patients died, were incapacitated, were caused to suffer extreme pain and suffering, required extended convalescence, required extensive post-surgical treatment, required subsequent operative procedures and some suffered organ damage;

"e. that Sabit had been performing unnecessary excessive spine surgeries on the elderly;

"f. that Sabit had been performing unnecessary multilevel spine surgeries on the elderly;

"g. that Sabit was suspected of having a pecuniary interest in the hardware he implanted;

"h. that Sabit was judged unfit to advance from provisional privileges after one year;

"i. that Sabit was performing an excessive number of surgical procedures overall;

"j. that many staff complaints had been lodged against Sabit; and,

"k. that Sabit was not competent, had not passed proctoring and was not Board Certified;

"l. that Sabit has requested kickback payments and incentives from spine hardware manufacturer representatives in exchange for using that manufacturer's products;

"m. that Sabit had experienced a high rate of surgical failures and redo-spinal surgeries;

"n. that Sabit was generating an extraordinary level of revenue for the hospital;

"o. that Sabit was generating an extraordinary level of revenue for Abou-Samra; and

"p. that Sabit was falsifying medical records and not adequately documenting patient medical conditions to avoid scrutiny of his incompetence."

Defendant Dr. Moustapha Abou-Samra "had responsibility for actions and omissions of Sabit under the doctrine of respondeat superior," according to the lawsuit.

Eventually, the hospital suspended Sabit and let him resign to cover up the injuries to his patients, Aguirre says in the complaint.

In hospital between October and December 2010, Aguirre says, Sabit implanted several surgical screws in her spine during surgery she did not need.

"Her injuries included a massive infection from the surgery, an abscess and infected bone graft material, not unlike infections many other Sabit patients experienced," the lawsuit states.

Aguirre claims she needed an additional surgery to "wash out" the infections.

Aguirre says she learned of Sabit's "fraudulent connection" to Reliance and Apex through a story in a Ventura newspaper.

"Until the story was brought to her attention, plaintiff had no reason to know or suspect that she was the victim of an incompetent surgeon who was held out by the defendants as competent," the complaint states.

In addition to Sabit and Abou-Samra, Aguirre sued Ventura County Neurological Associates Medical Group, Dr. David Westra, and the Community Memorial Health System.

She seeks damages for fraud, deceit, concealment and negligence, medical expenses, lost earnings and costs.

She is represented by Glenn Campbell with the Ventura Law Group.

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