Father Versus Surgeons and New York Presbyterian Hospital

I decided to read this book review because of a brief description (“A father describes, and rages at, the loss of his teenage son.) in an email. Then I found this:

Weber’s story becomes more spirited and urgent when Damon’s health begins to fail more seriously, and his father is forced to locate his true enemy: the received wisdom and arrogance of the American medical establishment.

Weber père . . .  admits he doesn’t trust “any single voice on Damon’s illness.” And he’s wise not to, as he discovers in short order that health care for his son is first and foremost a business, and that surgeons frequently talk out of their hats.

Heart transplants represent big money for hospitals: at half a million dollars each, 20 pediatric transplant operations a year make a significant contribution to the finances of New York-Presbyterian ­Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, where Damon’s surgery is eventually performed. Hospitals compete to attract patients (every transplant center Weber speaks with wants to perform his son’s operation) and stringently guard their surgical outcome data, as Weber discovers when he tries to find out if the blithe assurances of the Columbia transplant team are scientifically valid. He quickly realizes “each hospital is a fiefdom.”

Worse still, the medical barons who run the fiefs care as much [i.e., as little] for protocol as they do for patients. Over Christmas of 2004, Damon is casually “listed” as a potential heart recipient — meaning he has to be ready to receive a new heart at a moment’s notice — without his father’s knowledge. His doctors then disappear for a week and more.

Before Weber can truly blow his stack, he discovers Damon’s doctors have also misclassified his son’s transplant status as less urgent than it is. Dad bulls [sic] them into fixing the problem, and 11 days later, a heart is found for Damon. The transplant in turn initiates a tragic cascade of doctor errors so egregious that Weber eventually sues both the medical director of pediatric heart transplants at New York-Presbyterian Columbia hospital and the hospital itself for malpractice. (Three years into the lawsuit, the medical director claimed Damon’s post-op records couldn’t be located.) All this happens at one of the country’s best heart transplant centers.

“Passively relying on the medical establishment and trusting them to manage my son’s care in his best interest is not . . . a luxury I have allowed myself,” Weber writes, with good reason.

Maybe I should start a series called “The Culture of Surgeons”. Entry 1: Eileen Consorti, a Berkeley surgeon who told me I should have surgery for a hernia I could not detect. Entry 2: Martin  Burton, an Oxford ear nose and throat surgeon whose Cochran Review about the pros and cons of tonsillectomy failed to consider that tonsils are part of the immune system.

3 Replies to “Father Versus Surgeons and New York Presbyterian Hospital”

  1. One should always be wary of the medical industry, especially surgeons. Too many in that industry are either covering their backside or protecting their income stream…

  2. As I asked in one of your recent posts about medicine:
    “Why am I not surprised?”

    What does surprise me is that so many people blindly trust the medical industry. Maybe it’s partly because of all the “gold standard” research studies published in prestigious medical journals.

    But the “gold” in the “gold standard” seems to refer to all the money involved, from the studies funded by drug companies, the reports published in journals that make huge sums of money selling reprints of those articles to BigPharma marketing departments, all the way down to the surgeons and drug-pushing doctors.

    As I’ve discovered through repeated personal experiences, the medical industry isn’t very interested in low-cost approaches like simple lifestyle changes, especially when hundreds of thousands of dollars can be made from tests, surgeries and drugs for each patient.

    If you want to contain escalating medical costs, just shut down the entire health care industry for a year, and watch the sharp decline of prescription drug abuse deaths, of hospital-acquired infections, and of deaths from botched surgeries and drug prescribing errors.

    Jim Purdy

  3. Check out this just posted article from WSJ on hernias and operations.


    Hernia repair, one of the most common surgical procedures, carries a risk many patients don’t consider: chronic pain after surgery.

    More than 30% of patients may suffer from long-term chronic pain and restricted movement after surgery to fix a hernia, a bulge of the intestine or body fat through a weak area in the abdomen, studies show. Damage to nerves and muscles from the hernia may cause lingering discomfort. New synthetic mesh devices, though better than traditional sutures at reinforcing the abdominal wall, can irritate nerves and carry a slightly higher risk of infection.

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