Have a Story to Tell? Had a medical error?

This blog is about patient safety, medical malpractice, staying healthy, and preventing future errors. Help & empower someone else, Teach a lesson, Bear witness, Build our community - Email us or call 781-444-5525.

Frustrated with a health problem?

Need an ally in your health crisis? Call 781-444-5525, or learn more.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Thrilled to be a pitcher and not a patient: Carl Pavano's shoulder misdiagnosis

The scar still looks fresh, 15 months later, on the inside of Carl Pavano's right elbow. Usually, after Tommy John surgery, it settles into a flesh-colored zipper, visible but not so obvious. Carl is actually progressing quite well.

As he comes to the end of his four-year, $40 million contract, Carl is thrilled to be a pitcher and not a patient. But he also has wounds from a bitter comeback trail that are hard for him to forget.

Carl said he was bruised by the belief among fans, reporters and some teammates that he was not dedicated to his craft. When he reflects on four lost seasons, he said he thought it could have been different if the Yankees' team doctor had recommended reconstructive elbow surgery sooner.

Carl shares some of the blame. He said he should have reported his back problems early in the 2005 season, when he made 17 starts through the end of June. Those issues brought about everything else, he says.

"I wish I had been smart enough to just get it right," Carl said. "Say something, make sure something was taken care of, instead of just keeping pitching and thinking it was going to get better."

A daily massage at his apartment helped for a while, Carl said, but pitching with back pain affected his arm. He went on the disabled list that July, and the Yankees announced that he had right shoulder tendonitis.

He made two rehabilitation starts after a month of rest and was re-evaluated by the team physician and a doctor whom Carl had known and trusted for years. The new diagnosis was rotator cuff tendonitis and associated pain in the humerus.

"When they reported I had rotator cuff tendonitis, I actually had a stress fracture in my humerus bone," Carl said. "It wasn't rotator cuff tendonitis. It was just misdiagnosed."

By May, Carl was back on a minor league pitching mound, but he left a start for Class AA Trenton with elbow discomfort. This, Carl said, was a pivotal point.

Six years earlier, when Carl pitched for Montreal, a doctor had removed bone chips from his elbow. He did it again in May 2006, removing a chip the size of a marble. (Carl kept is as a souvenir, he said, until it turned to mold and dust.) The procedure was a temporary fix. It helped for a while, but when Carl broke his ribs in a car accident that August, he aggravated the elbow by trying to keep pitching without telling the Yankees about the injury. In hindsight, Carl said, he could have had Tommy John surgery that summer, but the Yankees did not recommend it.

"I think I could have, but we'll never know," Carl said. The doctor "was told not to. He was told to take the bone chips out and rehab it."

Two starts into the 2007 season, the elbow pain returned, and Carl insisted on major surgery as the only way to heal everything. It took four doctors to find one who agreed definitively. That was the Mets team doctor.

"They had to go through all that red tape; that's why I had to go get all these opinions," Carl said. "It was crazy. And I had to walk around with my heart in my throat: 'Are you serious? You're messing with my career here.' You think I wanted to have Tommy John surgery? But I knew I needed it and I knew I could come back from it. That's why I was all for it."

The Mets team physician told Carl he had done everything he could to come back from the 2006 operation. His only choice was Tommy John surgery, in which a tendon from Carl's knee was used to replace an elbow ligament.

It took place June 5, 2007, nearly two months after he had last pitched a game. Carl said he wished he had the operation sooner.

"I would have been back seven weeks earlier this year," Carl said. "That would have been a considerable amount of time to help the team."

Advice: If you don't agree with a doctor's diagnosis, ask what else it could be. If the answer and the recommended treatment are still unsatisfactory, consider getting another doctor's opinion.

Read another Yankee pitcher's misdiagnosis story.

Thanks to Tyler Kepner for the source article in yesterday's New York Times.

No comments: