Surgical medical malpractice lawsuit: Adrenal gland surgery ends with removal of pancreas instead

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have represented many clients in lawsuits against surgeons.

A common reason that patients hire a medical malpractice attorney to investigate potential surgical malpractice involves unintended injuries during a surgery.

Damaging the structure being operated on

Sometimes the part of the body that is the focus of the surgery is injured during the procedure. For example, a perforation (hole) in the stomach during a bariatric/weight-loss surgery, a perforated bowel during a colonoscopy, or perforated esophagus during an endoscopy.

Texas law requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to have the support of one or more medical expert witnesses, in order to pursue healthcare liability claim. In my experience, expert witnesses whom our law firm has retained to review surgical malpractice cases are typically of the opinion that accidentally causing a perforation at the surgical site is not in and of itself negligence. In other words, even with proper surgical care, in some situations, perforations may be unavoidable.

Thus, a key focus of our investigative efforts is whether the surgeon appropriately monitored the patient, acted on signs and symptoms of a perforation, and promptly took the patient back to surgery to repair the problem.

The longer there is a hole in the stomach or intestine, for example, the more likely infection will develop and spread as a result of leakage of the structure’s contents into the peritoneal cavity. A delay in diagnosing and repairing a perforation can lead to terrible injuries to a patient, requiring months or years of ongoing treatment that may have been avoided with proper care.

Removing or damaging structures near the surgical site

Patients also frequently hire a medical malpractice lawyer when a surgeon operates or removes the wrong body part. The standard of care requires surgeons to identify and protect organs, nerves, blood vessels, and other structures before proceeding with the surgery. When a surgeon fails to do so, it is always an unnecessary danger to patient safety.

Years ago, I remember trying a lawsuit in Houston, where the opposing party retained a surgeon as an expert witness to provide opinions about the surgical care provided in the case. When I looked into the background of that so-called expert, I discovered that his experience included actually amputating a patient’s wrong leg. That made an interesting topic for cross-examination at trial.

Surprisingly, this type of situation happened more often than you might think. In fact, as a result of repeated operations on the wrong surgical site, hospital accrediting organization The Joint Commission, requires that hospitals adopt a “surgical time out” before a procedure starts.

Once everyone involved in the procedure, including the nursing staff, surgeon, and anesthesiologist, is at the bedside, they stop for a moment to verify the correct procedure, for the correct patient, at the correct site. The Joint Commission encourages patient participation in the surgical timeout, where possible. Some experts even go so far as to recommend that patients use a marker to write “NO” or “WRONG SIDE” on their bodies. I think that is a good idea.

Even beyond the accreditation requirement, The Joint Commission and Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses have attempted to keep focus on this important patient safety issue by organizing a National Time Out Day each June.

Despite these ongoing patient safety efforts, removal or damage to structures near the surgical site remains a plaguing problem in terms of patient safety.

A September 2017 medical malpractice lawsuit filed by a surgical patient of Methodist Dallas Hospital illustrates this point. A 63-year-old Alvarado, Texas woman went to the hospital for a DaVinci Robotic System surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her left adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are located near the kidneys.

The lawsuit petition alleges that the surgeon, who was the chief of urology at the hospital, completely missed the tumor, but instead removed nearly half of her pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that has an important role in controlling blood sugar levels.

After the surgery, the patient alleged that pancreatic fluid leaked into her abdomen, requiring an astounding 27 additional operations to drain her pancreas. After all this, the patient expressed concerns that the tumor is still on her adrenal gland.

We are here to help

If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured because of potential surgical malpractice, call the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-800, for a free consultation about your potential case.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He represents patients and their families in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against surgeons, anesthesiologists, physicians, and hospitals. He brings to the table his experience as hospital administrator, and focus on medical negligence matters, for his clients. In 2017, and multiple previous years, he was recognized as one of Houston’s top lawyers by H Texas magazine and Houstonia magazine. 

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.