When a person undergoes a surgical procedure, they already face serious potential health risks, regardless of the type of surgery they require. Problems with anesthesia, the potential for unexpected complications to arise, and a number of other factors can all contribute to make surgery a dangerous prospect in any circumstance. However, most patients are at least able to take comfort in the fact that their medical care providers have the expertise and experience required to perform the procedure to the best possible standard.
Unfortunately, this confidence is sometimes misplaced. While the vast majority of surgeons are highly competent, dedicated professionals with the skill necessary to perform the incredibly complex procedures required in modern medical care, a small but substantial minority of surgeons are ill-equipped to take a patient’s life in their hands. An in-depth examination of a well-known case of surgical error can help to make this point clearer.
Dana Carvey, the comedian best known for his roles on Saturday Night Live and in the Wayne’s World movies, began experiencing severe chest pain as a result of angina. After undergoing several angioplasties to relieve the pain, all of which were ineffective, he eventually opted to undergo double bypass surgery in 1998. Unfortunately, he continued to experience chest pain even after the surgery had been successfully completed.
In an effort to determine precisely what lay behind the ongoing pain, Carvey underwent an angiogram. This test revealed that the double bypass operation Carvey had undergone had been performed on the wrong artery. While Carvey was lucky enough to have caught the problem in time (a final angioplasty procedure, performed by a different surgeon, successfully relieved Carvey’s arterial blockage, and he sustained no long-term damage to the heart muscle), the failure on the part of his initial surgeon placed his life in imminent danger. Without additional procedures, Carey may well have suffered a life-threatening medical event.
As a result of this revelation, Carvey, with the assistance of a skilled medical malpractice attorney, sued his surgeon and the facility at which the operation was performed for $7.5 million, eventually settling for an undisclosed amount, which was distributed to various charitable organizations engaged in research for preventing heart disease. Carvey had the luxury of significant financial security, which enabled him to pursue the suit solely for the purpose of holding his surgeon accountable for his errors. However, many patients who suffer from the effects of medical malpractice do not have this luxury, and must pursue litigation as a matter of necessity as much as one of accountability.