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Thursday, October 18, 2007

There was nothing wrong with me: Unnecessary triple bypass surgery

Ron Spurgeon's health began to unravel when he hurt his shoulder doing yard work. He eventually wound up at a hospital in northern California, where a cardiologist told him he had a life-threatening heart condition. Four days later, he had triple bypass surgery.

Restrictions on heavy lifting as a consequence of the incision in his breastbone led the robust 56-year-old to give up his job maintaining machinery at lumber mills.

In 2003, two years after his operation, Ron learned that Tenet Healthcare, the hospital's owner, had paid $54 million to settle U.S. government allegations that it billed Medicare for unnecessary heart procedures. The next year, Ron and 344 others sued the hospital and eight cardiologists and surgeons for performing unnecessary procedures. The defendants ultimately paid $442 million to settle the suit, and Tenet says safeguards are now in place. Outside experts who reviewed patient charts determined that Ron was among the many patients who hadn't needed their procedures.

"There was nothing wrong with me," he says. "Those guys violated me. They took away my trust in doctors."

Advice: Ask your doctor beforehand what the medical research says is the likely result of your surgery.

Read another unnecessary surgery story, or read Consumer Reports' source story.

Thanks, Helen Haskell.

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