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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Veteran Awarded $4.3M for Spinal Surgery Error

(CN) - A federal judge in Los Angeles awarded a veteran more than $4.34 million after doctors botched a surgery and failed to correct their mistake, leaving the 66-year-old permanently confined to a bed and wheelchair.

Alvin Johnson underwent spinal surgery in October 2005 at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Los Angeles to correct a ruptured disc. Antonio DeSalles and Donald Shields, who performed the surgery, injected a material called Surgifoam, which absorbs blood and other fluids, into the cavity created when the ruptured disc was removed.

Though the surgeons claimed to have removed the excess Surgifoam, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess said the evidence indicated otherwise.

The foam was apparently "left in a partially enclosed area, absorbed sufficient materials that it expanded, and pressed against the spinal cord," Feess wrote.

The doctors allegedly left Johnson alone after the surgery, and didn't notify his daughter until two and half hours after the operation, according to the ruling.

"By that time, Mr. Johnson was in a frantic state because he had no feeling from his neck down and was experiencing near complete paralysis," Feess wrote.

Another doctor ordered an MRI, which showed that the spinal cord was still compressed.

Johnson's expert witness, Dr. Bruce Van Damm, stated that had the doctors taken steps to correct their error, they could have prevented permanent damage.

But the doctors did nothing, Feess said.

As a result, Johnson, who is now 70, has limited control and movement of his arms and legs. He is confined to a bed or wheelchair, requires a catheter and diapers, and has to depend on others for all daily activities, including bathing, hygiene, eating and mobility.

The judge ordered the government to pay Johnson more than $4.34 million for past and future medical expenses.

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