Man Dies After Surgeon Operates on Wrong Side of Head

Published August 24, 2007

| Associated Press

An 86-year-old man has died three weeks after a surgeon operated on the wrong side of his head, and state health authorities were investigating whether the mistake contributed to his death.

The patient, whose name wasn't released, died Saturday. The state medical examiner was determining the cause of death, according to a spokeswoman for the state health department.

The man underwent emergency surgery at Rhode Island Hospital on July 30 to treat bleeding in his brain, according to a state report released Thursday.

A nurse practitioner for Dr. Frederick Harrington didn't record which side of the man's brain required surgery. When another nurse pointed out the missing information, Harrington allegedly relied on his memory without consulting a CT chart and began operating on the wrong side. Upon realizing the error during the surgery, the surgeon operated on the correct side.

In the surgical team's haste to treat the patient, it didn't follow proper procedures, said Dr. Mary Reich Cooper, vice president and chief quality office for Lifespan, the parent company of Rhode Island Hospital.

The hospital has suspended Harrington's surgical privileges, and he has agreed to stop performing surgery until an evaluation is complete. Harrington did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The incident marked the third wrong-side surgery error in the hospital's neurosurgery unit in six years. Health officials have ordered the hospital to hire a consultant to review its surgical safety procedures and to ensure that two physicians confirm the site of each surgery.

Harrington also operated on the wrong side of a patient's head during a surgery at Roger Williams Medical Center in September.

After reviewing that incident, the state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline decided there were mitigating circumstances and opted to create a remediation plan for Harrington rather than publicly sanction him, said Dr. Robert Crausman, the board's chief administrative officer.

Crausman said the board determined Harrington had a good record, was summoned to the hospital for an early morning emergency and was credited with saving the patient's life.

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