A wrong-patient surgery performed on a newborn has been reported at a Tennessee Hospital, raising concerns about medical errors that can pose a risk to the patients’ survival and well-being.
On December 16, 2015, Hartsville resident Jennifer Melton, aged 31, delivered a healthy boy called Nate via cesarean section, at the University Medical Center, from Lebanon, Tennessee.
The procedure unfolded without any complications, and the newborn appeared perfectly fine, which is why the following day, when a nurse came to fetch Nate, Melton had no misgivings.
She simply guessed that the baby boy would receive a routine medical examination, which is normally performed on infants in order to determine their weight, blood group etc.
Instead of being subjected to a mere postnatal assessment however, Nate underwent a frenulectomy. This surgical procedure entails the removal of a tissue fold from the mouth, so that the tongue’s free movements aren’t impaired, and so that problems that may affect the gums or teeth can be prevented.
Apparently, a surgeon mistook Nate with the another infant suffering from ankyloglossia (commonly known as tongue tie). This condition can make it difficult for babies to be nursed by their mothers and can also result in functional speech disorders later on.
That is why a frenectomy was deemed necessary, and following the procedure, Nate was returned to his parents, as the nurse reassured them that everything went fine during the “tongue clipping”.
The news that doctors performed surgery on their child came as a shock to Melton and her partner, 33-year old Dominique Harper.
The consternation was even greater upon realizing that their baby was actually the victim of a wrong-patient surgery, having had the frenulectomy without ever needing it in the first place.
Nate’s parents felt completely helpless looking at their baby with blood dripping from beneath his tongue, as medical staff confirmed that an error had been made.
In a distressing phone conversation with the pediatrician that subjected Nate to the unnecessary surgery, Melton and her partner were informed that the frenectomy had been intended for another newborn, but that their infant wouldn’t have any health issues following this medical procedure.
They were also told that Nate didn’t even experience too much discomfort during the tongue-clipping performed with surgical scissors, crying just for a little while.
Obviously, that didn’t help alleviate Melton and Harper’s anguish and apprehension, and now the couple is planning to sue the University Medical Center, as well as the doctor that performed the wrong-patient surgery.
For this purpose, the plaintiffs have enlisted the help of Clint Kelly, a board-certified attorney specializing in medical malpractice law.
Despite having had legal work experience spanning across 2 decades, Kelly admits that he has never encountered such a horrific case of careless conduct exhibited by a medical practitioner.
Hospitals are places where patients put their lives in the hands of attending physicians, and this incident shows just how vulnerable individuals can be when human errors are committed in this supposedly safe and highly regulated environment.
Melton and Harper are hoping that their misfortune will generate enough publicity so that wrong-patient surgery and other instances of malpractice are more painstakingly avoided and prevented.
The anxious parents are also praying that Nate will not experience any health issues following the mistaken frenulectomy.
Nearly 2 months have passed since the surgery, and the infant appears well enough, although he does make gagging sounds at times, while lying on his back, and other times has trouble during bottle feeding.
Only time will tell if the surgery will have lasting repercussions on his speaking skills and self-feeding abilities, and for now his family still fears the worst.
Meanwhile, Adam Groshans, a representative of the University Medical Center has declared that the physician who was responsible for the wrongly administered frenulectomy wasn’t actually among the facility’s regular staff members.
Instead, he was an independent medical practice owner, whose services had been sought by the clinic in recent years.
Image Source: CW33