WHAT HAPPENED: Our client underwent obesity-reducing gastric bypass surgery in December 1996 by a surgeon in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and ultimately endured an amazing medical nightmare. When she had vomiting and ulceration, she treated at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, a U.S. facility, since her husband was in the Navy.
The doctors at Portsmouth Naval Hospital conducted a first "revision" surgery to correct the problems, which was never successful. Following the "revision", our client still suffered from ulceration, regular vomiting, and her physical condition deteriorated so much that she had to have a feeding tube placed for liquid nutrition through an abdominal tube over several months. The recurrent vomiting ultimately led to loss of all her teeth and dentures were fabricated.
Eventually, the U.S. doctors told her that she needed still another complicated surgery known as a vagotomy and antrectomy in which the doctors removed the lower portion of her remaining stomach and removed various nerves from her stomach lining.
Following the second surgery, she again did not have relief from her symptoms. We referred our client to various experts, not only to stabilize her medical condition, but also to determine whether the government physicians had violated medical standards and committed malpractice. Experts gave opinions that the government had violated applicable medical standards in that the first "revision" failed to properly "staple" the gastric pouch, leaving an improper pouch and/or opening. Thus, the second surgery also was inappropriate and unnecessary, leaving our client in need of still a third, corrective surgery to correct her condition.
Later, one of the government doctors made several key admissions in his deposition. In order to best explain the complicated medical injuries that our client endured, we commissioned Medivisuals, a medical illustrator, and supervised, along with the medical experts, creation of a multi-panel anatomy illustration which became the one document which could explain all of the circumstances with regard to our client's medical anatomy.
While the suit was pending, and after multiple doctor depositions had been conducted, the case was referred to a United States Magistrate for court-sponsored mediation. At the time of mediation, it was understood that our client would still need to undergo a very risky corrective surgery. Dr. Sugarman, an expert in gastric bypass, had evaluated our client, and was prepared to conduct the surgery at MCV in Richmond, VA. Another issue was the lifetime nutritional needs that our client would need, which would vary somewhat, depending on the outcome of the contemplated corrective surgery.
KEY LEGAL STRATEGY: This type of claim against the U.S. does not have a jury trial, and instead a federal judge must be convinced of the merit of the plaintiff's case. Accordingly, we obtained two very well qualified experts with knowledge of gastric bypass surgery. Both gave opinions that the government had not met applicable medical standards. Moreover, the creation of the multi-panel medical illustration (see inset box) made the case understandable for the federal magistrate as well as all experts involved in the case.
POST-SCRIPT: Our client underwent successful corrective surgery during July, 2002 at M.C.V. in Richmond. She is not suffering ulceration or vomiting, yet does have special nutritional requirements she must follow on a lifetime basis,besides those normally required by gastric bypass surgery.
Richard N. Shapiro, Attorney
Charles Cunningham, Investigator
Luther Yopp, Investigator
Jackie Tilton, Paralegal
Mary Wareing, Legal Secretary