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Did Rushing Cause This Fatal Surgical Error?

Surgeon denies negligence in wrongful death case.

Published: May 21, 2013

Why did a laparoscopic cholecystectomy turn deadly: extensive scar tissue or the surgeon's shortcuts? We'll never know for certain because the wrongful death suit was settled during jury deliberations for $1,050,000, but the case hammers home the importance of good visualization during minimally invasive abdominal surgery.

On July 14, 2010, Alexander Park, MD, performed a laparoscopic cholecystectomy on Trellis Basham, 67, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. Due to complications from extensive scar tissue, Dr. Park elected to abandon the laparoscopic procedure in favor of an open surgery, court records show. During the open procedure, Dr. Park encountered excessive bleeding and discovered a tear in the portal vein. Dr. Park called in a vascular surgeon to repair the vein, but by by this time Ms. Basham had already suffered a catastrophic blood loss. She died in the ICU shortly after the surgery.

Ms. Basham's adult children filed a suit against Dr. Park and his employer, Georgia Surgical Associates PC, for wrongful death. They argued that Dr. Park was behind schedule and, while rushing through Ms. Basham's surgery, inserted a trocar without proper visualization, which resulted in the portal vein injury.

Dr. Park denied any wrongdoing and contended that the laparoscopic surgery was complicated by excessive scar tissue that was blocking the gallbladder. However, Dr. Park admitted that he deviated from his standard procedure for non-emergent laparoscopic surgeries, court records show. Although it was standard practice for Dr. Park to first insert a Veress needle into the abdominal cavity to create space around the organs before inserting the trocar, he skipped this step in this instance and inserted the trocar without the typical visualization. Defense expert Joseph Mims, MD, testified that while Dr. Park's decision was not a deviation from the standard of care, it was extremely rare for a surgeon not to insert the Veress needle, court records show.

Dan O'Connor

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