Family Claims Surgical Error Was Fatal

OMAHA (CN) – A heart surgery patient died after doctors mistakenly placed a chest tube through his colon, the patient’s family claims in court.
     The family of the late Paul Hemsley sued Omaha Thoracic & Cardiovascular Surgery and Drs. Thomas J. Langdon and John T. Batter, in Douglas County District Court. Hemsley was 67 when he died on Oct. 1, 2011, nine days after heart surgery.
     His family claims complications began three days after the surgery, when nurses noticed an elevated heart rate and oozing from the chest incision.
     Later that day, Batter examined Hemsley and documented “feces oozing from Mr. Hemsley’s surgical incision,” according to the lawsuit.
     Batter asked for a surgical consultation with (nonparty) Dr. Brad Winterstein, who noted that stool was coming from the chest wound, that it was possible the chest tube had gone through the colon and that Hemsley’s temperature had risen to 104 degrees, according to the complaint.
     Dr. Paul Ganesan, an infectious disease specialist, also examined Hemsley and noted that “there was obvious stool pouring out of the sternotomy wound” and that Hemsley’s condition was critical and that he had sepsis, the family says.
     Ganesan is not a party to the complaint.
     Winterstein performed colon repair surgery on Hemsley and his initial diagnosis was confirmed – the chest tube had been placed through the colon, the complaint states. During surgery, Winterstein “found obvious, frank stool in the sternal wound,” which he washed clean, according to the lawsuit.
     Despite Winterstein’s efforts, Hemsley’s condition continued to decline. The family claims that during this time – from Sept. 25 until his death on Oct. 1 – that neither Langdon nor Batter returned Hemsley to surgery to clean his mediastinum and neither asked for consultation from an infectious disease specialist.
     Hemsley’s family claims Langdon and Batter were negligent by placing the chest tube through the colon and by not assisting Winterstein on the colon repair surgery to make sure all of the liquid feces were cleaned out of the area to avoid sepsis.
     “The chest surgeon cannot assume that the general surgeon’s cleaning of the surgical incision is sufficient to appropriately treat fecal material and its bacteria that have flowed below the level accessible to an incision cleaning,” the complaint states. “It is the chest surgeon’s duty to undertake the surgery to clean the mediastinum from fecal material regardless of how the general surgeon describes the adequacy of his surgical incision cleaning.”
     The family seeks damages for negligence, wrongful death and burial expenses. They are represented by Greg Garland.

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