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Settlement Reached In Wrong-Site Surgery Case

Feb 3, 2005 | The Roanoke Times

A veteran Radford surgeon who acknowledges that he has begun to operate or operated on the wrong body part three times during his roughly 20-year career settled a lawsuit Wednesday over his latest brush with wrong-site surgery.

A jury that heard three days of testimony related to a wrong-hip procedure was deliberating how much Dr. Kenneth Gray should be required to pay Ivory Andrews when lawyers announced a confidential settlement. Lawyers for Andrews, 87, had told jurors that she deserved about $700,000 in compensation for added medical expenses, future medical care needs, and pain and suffering. They also were planning to seek punitive damages in a separate trial next week that was called off because of the settlement.

Carilion New River Valley Medical Center, where Andrews had surgery, entered into a secret settlement with Andrews last month in Radford Circuit Court.

Despite his history, Gray has a clean record with the state Board of Medicine, according to information that the agency makes publicly available, and can operate at area hospitals. A board official said Wednesday that in 2001, the agency directed doctors to report malpractice actions resolved against them.

Gray's attorney, when asked about Gray's three brushes with wrong-site surgery, said the first patient never filed a claim and that the second suffered minimal injury and accepted a confidential settlement, which Gray was not obligated to report because he used his own money. In the latest case, Gray disagreed with the extent of damages claimed by his patient, Andrews.

"Wrong-site surgeries are not just the fault of the physician," adding that hospital personnel also play a role stated gray's attorney.

Carilion Health System spokesman Eric Earnhart said New River Valley Medical Center "has an excellent safety record. These two instances of wrong-site surgery involving this one physician are the only instances of wrong-site surgery that the hospital has had, and we've taken significant steps to prevent a recurrence in the future."

The hospital opened in 1999.

Andrews broke her left hip in a fall at home in 2003. Gray installed a stabilizing plate and pin in her right hip, discovered his error after the procedure, awoke Andrews and broke
the news to her and her family, after which they agreed to let him pin the broken left hip.

The surgical incision on the good hip became infected, among a number of other complications, and Andrews spent 45 days in the hospital.

After she sued him, Gray admitted medical negligence.

The trial focused on which of Andrews' many current medical problems stemmed from the unnecessary surgery on her good hip and which were attributable to the fact that she is a hip-fracture patient of advanced age, with previous back problems.

Jurors were told to sanction Gray for only those damages he caused, but were sent home about an hour after they began to deliberate.

Andrews' lawyers, quoting from Gray's own pretrial deposition, said that in the papers, the doctor admitted two previous experiences with wrong-site surgery.

Some 18 years ago, Gray said, he began an incision on the wrong hip of an unidentified patient at Radford Community Hospital. He realized his error and did not complete the procedure.

Radford Community Hospital closed and was replaced by New River Valley Medical Center.

In November 2002, Gray performed a "knee arthroscope" on the wrong knee of an unidentified patient at New River Valley Medical Center, court papers said, again quoting Gray's deposition. With the patient's OK, Gray then operated on the correct knee. As it turned out, both knees had problems, Gray said in deposition. "We fixed both knees instead of one knee," Gray is quoted as saying.

Carilion Health System paid a settlement to the patient in the wrong-knee case as well, Earnhart confirmed.

A nationwide push to curb wrong-site surgery, coupled with the knee-surgery incident, prompted New River Valley Medical Center to create a policy to prevent a recurrence, Earnhart said. One requirement in the Carilion system and perhaps elsewhere directs medical personnel to write "YES" on the body part to be operated on before the patient is anesthetized, court papers said. Gray played a role in implementing the policy, Earnhart said.

Ivory Andrews' broken left hip had the word YES on it, in green ink, when Gray helped position her on the operating room table, Andrews' lawyers said in court papers, quoting hospital employees.


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