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Two Deaths Lead to Malpractice Suit

Apr 26, 2004 | AP

Stephanie Wildes and Edward Quintana will never have a chance to advertise their dramatic weight loss from gastric bypass surgery.

They died at UNM Hospital with machines helping them breathe. Their dreams of new, thinner lives extinguished by infections.

Whether they died because of medical error or by chance may ultimately be decided by juries if their cases against the hospital go to trial. Their cases are among three wrongful death cases and one malpractice case pending against the hospital.

According to attorneys and depositions in the case, everyone seems to agree that gastric bypass surgery is serious and performed on people who are high surgical risks.

"Gastric bypass is a very dramatic and complex procedure," said Jerry Walz, an attorney for the hospital. "There are a slew of problems that give rise to medical complications. The first being is that these are not your average type of patients."

The attorney, who is representing the patients' families, said the surgery has dangers but the hospital "seems to be unprepared to handle diagnose and evaluate these patients once they have the surgery."

Wildes and Quintana's deaths are the darker side of a growing industry in which obese people go under the knife in a desperate attempt to lose weight.

More than 100,000 people will undergo some version of the procedure this year, up from 63,000 just two years ago. And based on recent studies, between 300 and 2,000 of them are likely to die of complications.

Wildes, a 51-year-old nurse with rheumatoid arthritis, weighed 429 pounds when she sought out the surgery in November 2001.

Quintana, 25, was a 500-pound former football player known as "Big Dawg" when he was operated on in April 2002.

In each case, staples used in the surgery didn't hold, allowing contents of the digestive system to flow into the abdomen.

Donald Fry, who operated on Wildes and Quintana, testified that he visually inspects the staple lines. He said using air or dyes to detect leaks creates more problems than a visual inspection.

Fry, who at the time had done about 550 of the procedures, testified that a dozen patients had experienced leakage from the surgical sites, a rate that appears to be in line with other public and academic hospitals.


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