IDAHO FALLS — Last year, Roland N. Smith was supposed to leave a local hospital without a life-threatening softball-sized tumor near his kidney.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, doctors mistakenly removed a healthy vital organ, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Bonneville County.
Smith, 83, and his attorneys have filed a civil malpractice lawsuit against several local doctors and a hospital alleging they removed his healthy left kidney during a surgery that was intended to remove a tumor attached to Smith’s right kidney.
The alleged malpractice happened in Idaho Falls on Aug. 23. The suit was filed last month.
The civil complaint, obtained by EastIdahoNews.com, alleges Drs. Roger H. Tall and David J. Chamberlain, along with a surgical team from Mountain View Hospital, mistakenly removed Smith’s left kidney. The complaint also alleges that, at times, Tall and Chamberlain filed false reports saying they reviewed the appropriate documents before surgery.
EastIdahoNews.com acknowledges a lawsuit does not indicate wrongdoing or proof of malpractice. These are allegations and conclusions should not be reached until all of the facts come out during court proceedings.
We have reached out to all parties involved in the lawsuit to provide the most fair and balanced report possible. They either declined to comment, were unavailable or did not return messages.
On the morning of Aug. 23, a group of health care providers gathered in an operating room at Mountain View Hospital to perform a “straight-forward and non-emergency, yet life-saving, surgical procedure” on Smith, according to the civil complaint.
Smith’s right kidney had a softball-sized cancerous tumor, which was diagnosed by two radiologists and his primary care nurse practitioner. According to the civil complaint, all three diagnoses “clearly and unequivocally stated the tumor was on Smith’s right kidney”.
The reports also detail and emphasize the life-threatening danger of Smith’s particular cancer.
The scope of the surgery was to remove the tumor attached to Smith’s right kidney and allow the organ to continue to function, prolonging his life. Smith’s left kidney was healthy and needed no medical attention.
“Yet with utter recklessness, the Tall, Chamberlain and Mountain View Group neglected to read or heed medical records which plainly stated that the cancerous tumor was Smith’s right kidney,” according to the civil complaint. “Instead, in complete disregard of the most fundamental medical safety standards, the group surgically removed Smith’s healthy, non-cancerous left kidney, leaving his cancerous and lethal right kidney undisturbed and intact.”
The first referral to Tall and Chamberlain show Smith’s right kidney was cancerous, according to court records.
The faxed referral, dated July 26, 2016, states: “Reason for referral: Surgical consult for right renal tumor with probability of malignancy.”
Clinical notes and Smith’s medical charts were also distributed to Tall and Chamberlain, all stating Smith’s right kidney was cancerous.
But at one point, the lawsuit states errors started cropping up in his medical reports, but no one noticed the errors.
Court documents refer to medical records that show the first time Smith’s tumor was mislabeled was on a July 12 report generated by Dr. David Warden, a licensed physician certified in radiology.
Warden stated a renal artery study showed a mass on Smith’s left kidney, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also states a second reporting error was made on July 27. Using clinical notes and medical charts, Tall compiled a report on Smith’s medical history and stated Smith had a “left renal tumor.” The doctor issued admission orders for Mountain View Hospital and wrote “left renal tumor” on the admitting diagnosis, according to court records.
The next day, Tall and Chamberlain met to plan for the surgery.
In his notes of the meeting, Chamberlain said, “I requested the patients’ old records and reviewed the old records. I have reviewed diagnostic imaging and laboratory evaluation.”
Despite that, the lawsuit claims neither doctor realized they were prepping for an incorrect surgery. Smith’s attorney’s contend that “neither surgical physician undertook any appropriate investigation or evaluation to verify the diagnosis and recklessly proceeded to remove Smith’s perfectly healthy left kidney.”
On the morning of the surgery, the surgical team prepped Smith’s left side. The team used a robot, known as the da Vinci, to perform the operation. The robot is equipped with a camera and the complaint states doctors should have easily seen the softball-sized tumor on the outside of the kidney — but they didn’t, since they were looking at the wrong organ.
It’s unclear why doctors operated on the wrong side and why they removed the entire kidney rather than searching for and operating on a tumor that was attached to the organ.
After the left kidney was removed, it was sent to the pathology department.
That same day, Tall and Chamberlain were informed the organ was healthy and “entirely normal,” according to court documents.
On Sept. 7, Tall signed Smith’s operative report and noted: “Smith is a 83-year-old man with a cystic left renal mass.” The civil complaint called Tall’s operative report in question, stating it was false in multiple respects.
In one instance, the complaint states Tall referred to a cavity left behind by the tumor and how the colon retracted to fill the void.
“That was not the case,” the civil complaint states, as the tumor was on the right side of Smith’s body.
Smith, who had been admitted to Mountain View Hospital for the surgery, was discharged with the cancerous tumor still in place and untouched.
“Dr. Chamberlain signed his report on Aug. 30, a week after he had actual knowledge that they had removed the wrong kidney,” the civil complaint claims. “But he made no correction to the report, (and) as with Dr. Tall, presented the surgery as being completely uneventful.”
Tall signed a discharge summary a week after Smith was released. It indicated the kidney was removed due to his interpretation of past medical scans, according to the lawsuit.
Smith’s lawyers contend Tall’s statement is false. They say the only information indicating a tumor was on the left kidney was Dr. Warden’s renal artery study on July 12. But multiple other tests done in July show the tumor was on the right kidney.
The complaint accuses Dr. Warden of failing to review X-rays, notes written by a sonographer and a renal artery study, all of which identify the right kidney.
Smith’s attorneys intend on proving at trial that Tall and Chamberlain caused physical and emotional pain and are responsible for the loss of enjoyment of life by permanently disabling Smith.
They accuse Mountain View Hospital of not enforcing or adopting appropriate protocols and procedures that would have prevented the alleged malpractice.
EastIdahoNews.com reached out to Tall and Chamberlain for comment in order to provide the most fair and balanced report possible.
Office staff assured us the doctors would return our calls and provide a statement on April 13. When we had not heard from the doctors by Wednesday, we reached out to both offices again and were told the doctors would call us back if they chose to.
Warden, the radiology physician, could not be reached, and Mountain View Hospital did not respond to our requests for comment.
Bob Schuster, an attorney representing Smith, said commenting on the lawsuit goes against his ethical standards.
EastIdahoNews.com spoke with the Idaho Board of Medicine and learned malpractice complaints and investigations in Idaho are not public record.
Again, EastIdahoNews.com acknowledges a lawsuit does not indicate wrongdoing or proof of malpractice. These are allegations and conclusions should not be reached until all of the facts come out during court proceedings.
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
McKenzie Romero, KSL
Natalia Hepworth, EastIdahoNews.com
Idaho State Journal staff