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Duke surgical error case underway in North Carolina court

A physical trauma can have a psychological impact and, in some cases, the reverse also may be true. A North Carolina woman alleges she suffered from conversion disorder - physical symptoms as a result of mental distress - after she underwent corrective surgery at Duke University Medical Center.

A Durham court recently heard the medical malpractice claim alleging the operation caused the patient to suffer stroke-like symptoms, including vision and sight problems and weakness on one side of the body. The procedure was performed to correct a serious mistake allegedly made by a top Duke gastrointestinal surgeon during a previous surgery in 2008.

According to the lawsuit, during the initial surgery to ease constipation, the doctor connected part of the woman's intestine to her vagina rather than the patient's rectum. The error was discovered the following day when the woman reported a bloody discharge coming from her vagina.

A follow-up surgery was performed without any apparent harm to the patient. However, the legal action asserted the patient suffered conversion disorder, also known as functional neurological symptom disorder, after psychological distress from the second surgical procedure set off the previously-described physical symptoms.

Lawyers for the defendants, including two surgeons and Duke University Medical Center, argued leakage from the bowels was not uncommon following this type of surgery. The plaintiff's attorney stated negligence was the reason the mistake occurred in the first place and was ultimately responsible for harm.

The case, filed in 2011, was rejected by another court but regained life during an appeal. The state appellate court ruled an expert's testimony was unnecessary to show the plaintiff's injury couldn't have occurred minus careless actions or inactions.

Doctors and the health care facilities that employ them can be held accountable for professional negligence through civil claims in North Carolina courts. Patients may recover compensation for medical costs, wage losses, pain and suffering and emotional distress.

Source: Legal Newsline Legal Journal, "Trial continues in med mal case against Duke hospital, surgeon for allegedly reconnecting patient’s intestine to vagina," Jessica M. Karmasek, May. 07, 2015

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