Can Your Brain Surgeon Tell The Difference Between Left and Right?


In Rhode Island, an 86 year old man has died, and probably not from natural causes. The man had brain surgery three weeks prior to his death. After the surgery, it was discovered that brain surgeon made a terrible medical mistake during the surgery and operated on the wrong side of the man's brain. State health officials are currently investigating the facts in the case to determine whether the surgeon's error was a contributing factor in the man's death.

The man died on August 18th after having emergency surgery on July 30th. The surgery was supposed to be an attempt to stop bleeding in the man's brain.

A spokeswoman for the state health department issued a statement saying that an autopsy has been performed and that the state medical examiner is working to determine the exact cause of death.

Dr. Frederick Harrington performed the brain operation on the elderly man. His nurse practitioner did not record on the patient's chart which side of the brain needed surgery. Reportedly, another nurse pointed out that the necessary information was missing before Harrington began the operation. Instead of consulting the CT scan, Harrington relied on his obviously faulty memory and opened up the wrong side of the man's scull. During the surgery Harrington realized that he was operating on the wrong side of the man's brain and then proceeded with surgery on the other side.

Dr. Mary Reich Cooper, vice president and chief quality office for Lifespan, the parent company of Rhode Island Hospital where the man received the botched surgery said that in their haste to provide medical treatment for the patient, the surgical team failed to follow proper procedures. It certainly didn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out, Dr. Cooper!

Harrington's surgical privileges at the hospital have been suspended. He has agreed not to operate on any patients until the investigation regarding the patient's death is complete.

Apparently the hospital does not have a great track record when it comes to being able to tell right from left. This is reportedly the third incident within six years in which the hospital's neurosurgery unit has operated on the wrong side of a patient.

At another hospital, Roger Williams Medical Center, Harrington also had surgical privileges. Last September, he reportedly operated on the wrong side of a patient's head at that facility.

The Rhode Island state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline reviewed the incident at Roger Williams Medical Center and decided there were mitigating circumstances. Harrington had been summoned to the hospital for an early morning emergency surgery and was credited for saving the patient's life. Prior to the incident Harrington had a good record.

The board opted to develop a remediation plan for Harrington rather than publicly discipline him at that time, according to Dr. Robert Crausman, the board's chief administrative officer.

I'm sure the dead man's family does not thank them for that decision.

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