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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Your Spine Can Be their Profit Center: A surgical error lawsuit

Patricia Kennedy's back hurt so much that she looked for a surgical solution. A spine surgeon in Philadelphia performed a disk replacement operation in late 2002. The surgery was not successful; indeed, Patricia says her condition is even worse now. The former competitive skater says she has gone from taking Tylenol to morphine for her pain and can no longer work for a living.

At the time she chose surgery, she did not realize that the replacement disk was experimental. She is suing both her surgeon for malpractice, and the manufacturer of the ProDisc for product liability. Her case will go to trial in March 2007. Adding insult to injury, the surgeon had not told her that he was a part owner of the device maker. This gave him--the lead researcher on a study of the ProDisc's effectiveness--an incentive to recommend and use the replacement disks, and to report favorably on them. "I'm filling out a questionnaire and saying that my pain level is an '8' on a scale of one to 10," with 10 being the worst, Kennedy says. "And my doctor is writing down that I have 'mild pain.' I don't think so," she says in Melissa Davis' TheStreet article. "I've really been guinea pigged and betrayed," she told Reed Abelson, as reported in today's New York Times.

Advice for patient advocates: Ascertain the success rate of that type of surgery, from that surgeon, before you let someone go under the knife. Ask the surgeon's office, or the vendor, whether the surgeon has a financial stake in using the device.