The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Today's winner are the Veteran's Administration, plus Dr. Dean Norman and medical resident John T. Leppert. They get the award for the following.
Benjamin Houghton had fewer reasons than most to fear the surgery he'd scheduled at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center to remove his potentially cancerous left testicle.It's rare, but how would you feel if you were in Houghton's shoes? The part can not be reattached. This is an example of total medical incompetence, and while Leppert did the surgery, Dean and the Veteran's administration are at fault too for not having safeguards in place. That's good enough for me to make The Veteran's Administration, plus Dr. Dean Norman and medical resident John T. Leppert today's Knuckleheads of the Day.
For one thing, the 47-year-old Air Force veteran and father of four already knew that he could function normally with a single, healthy testicle.
For another, he was getting his surgery in a system that has prided itself on its pioneering efforts to prevent medical errors. One top VA official said the VA's approach to safety is considered "a benchmark by healthcare organizations throughout the world."
But in Houghton's case, the hospital missed the mark. Last June 14, doctors mistakenly removed the right testicle instead of the left, according to medical records and a claim filed by Houghton and his wife Monica, 39.
Now the couple are seeking about $200,000 for future healthcare costs outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system and an undisclosed amount in damages. Their claim is pending.
Houghton was left deprived of the testosterone the healthy testicle produced, setting him up for potential health complications including sexual dysfunction, depression, fatigue, weight gain and osteoporosis. Within a healthcare system with nationally recognized patient safety innovations, he joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of Americans each year who are victimized by medical errors.
"At first I thought it was a joke," said Houghton, who recalls being told of the mistake immediately afterward, while he was in recovery. "Then I was shocked. I told them, 'What do I do now?' "
Dr. Dean Norman, chief of staff for the Greater Los Angeles VA system, has formally apologized to Houghton and his wife.
"We are making every attempt that we can to care for Mr. Houghton, but it's in litigation, and that's all we can tell you," he said. Norman added that the hospital has made changes in its practices as a result of the case.
The VA surgeon, fifth-year UCLA medical resident John T. Leppert, was supposed to remove Houghton's left testicle and perform a vasectomy on his right side for birth control purposes, according to medical records that Houghton and his attorney gave The Times.
In medical parlance, what happened instead was a "wrong site surgery," a category that includes operating on or removing the wrong limb or organ, doing the wrong procedure or treating the wrong patient. It is a rare, if often devastating, occurrence.
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