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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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What Do You Call a Minnesota Surgeon Sued Nine Times for Malpractice? A TEXAS Surgeon!

10 comments

Yesterday, I posted “Exposing the Perils of Texas Tort Reform” which prompted me to research neurosurgeon, Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz (Dr. K). What I found was so unbelievable that I thought I should share it with my readers, especially for the safety of the citizens of Texas (you know, the state run by our newest presidential candidate).

As I previously mentioned, Dr. K has a long malpractice register with nine medical malpractice cases filed against him during his time at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. The first claim was filed when he allegedly ruptured a woman’s aorta during spinal surgery within a year of his arrival in Duluth. Although a jury did not find Dr. K negligent, a fellow St. Luke’s neurosurgeon testified against him. Until recently, that was the only case against the doctor that went to trial. Three cases are still pending; five were settled out of court.

  • 2001: Patient treated for carpal tunnel syndrome lost the use of her right arm for several years and says her right hand is still numb. Dr. K and St. Luke’s settled for about $85,000.
  • 2003: Patient suffered fractured vertebrae after being injected with the wrong dye. The case settled for about $300,000.
  • 2004 Patient got an infection from a surgical procedure to alleviate pain from a herniated disc. She died within a week of the operation. Her widower won a settlement of about $355,000.
  • 2005: Patient’s aorta was cut when she underwent spinal surgeries. Dr. K missed the hole in her aorta and she bled to death 12 hours later. Her family settled for $1.45 million.
  • 2007: Patient is paralyzed from the neck down after being improperly secured during neck surgery. Her family settled for more than $1 million.

Despite numerous malpractice suits and warnings from St. Luke doctors and staff that Dr. K posed a risk to patients, the hospital continued to allow the neurosurgeon to practice. Was it because he performed more neurosurgeries than his peers and brought more revenue to a previously struggling hospital? The hospital experienced five straight years of profit, netting a combined $32 million; surgeries increased by 164% despite no increase in surgeons.

Finally, in September 2010, Dr. K was reprimanded by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. As part of the reprimand, the state board ordered him to be observed performing surgeries, but Dr. K had already left the state. He moved to Texas where he was welcomed with opened arms by Governor Rick Perry. Texas, you see, was already one of the most heavily tort reformed states in the country. Thus, with limited penalties for bad doctoring, it is the perfect venue for doctors like Dr. K. He can commit all the malpractice he wants, with limited consequences!

The most recent lawsuit, which triggered research by the News Tribune, alleges that the doctor botched a brain biopsy, leaving his patient severely brain damaged. A retired surgical technician told the Tribune, “The assumption from many people was that St. Luke’s didn’t deal with him because he was bringing in so much revenue. Many physicians and anesthesiologists had concerns about him right from the beginning.” Seven doctors who previously worked with Dr. K said they brought their concerns about his ability and competence to hospital administrators, but were rebuffed. Despite the lawsuits and accusations, St. Luke’s continued to support Dr. K. In a short period of time, the News Tribune heard from 29 patients wanting to share their story. Here is a summary of four cases:

Case 1:

At age 27, a man had surgery for a ruptured disc. After surgery, the pain increased, becoming unbearable. The pain and numbness in his back spread to his left side and down to his foot, causing atrophy. Now, ten year later, he is unable to work, a victim of chronic pain in his back and hips that he said feels like someone has taken a searing-hot poker to his body. He no longer has feeling in his left foot, has difficulty walking and often falls. He expects to be on narcotic painkillers the rest of his life just to tolerate the pain. The man is on disability, a loss of about 40 percent of his former income, and he and his wife are struggling to keep their home.

Case 2:

A woman experienced pain for years due to an accident when she was a high school gymnast and a few minor auto accidents. The pain worsened over the years. After a spinal fusion, the pain persisted. An epidural was recommended to relieve the pain, but by 2006 it was so severe that she was having uncontrollable tremors. An MRI revealed the woman had a ruptured disc and her vertebrae had not fused after surgery. She was fortunate to have the problem repaired, but still experiences pain that will never go away. She can barely turn her head and has difficulty driving.

Case 3:

A woman didn’t know why her right leg suddenly began to hurt. It became so severe that she couldn’t stand up without pain shooting down her leg. Then it reversed and she couldn’t sit down without feeling the pain. She was diagnosed with a herniated disc and scheduled for immediate surgery. After surgery, the pain in her leg worsened added by intense back pain. An MRI revealed that a bone used to repair her spine had dislodged and shifted, requiring another surgery. After a 2nd surgery, the woman was immediately in “agonizing” pain. A post-operative MRI showed her spinal cord was nicked and leaking fluid. Doctors say she will eventually be permanently disabled and probably lose the use of her legs. She is unable to work without narcotic painkillers.

Case 4:

When an athlete experienced loss in arm strength while playing basketball, he was told he needed spinal surgery to repair a disc in his neck. Within a month of surgery, the man could walk and drive again, but during a follow-up doctor appointment he was told that the screws and plate used to fuse his neck vertebrae from the front were coming apart and would need to be taken out and put in the back of his neck. Three operations later, he can no longer walk and is paralyzed on the right side of his body. The paralysis is due to a cutting of the spinal cord, a condition that is untreatable. He takes 42 pills a day, his memory is fading, and he depends on his wife for even basic tasks.

Even though the Texas Medical Board (TMB) is now aware of Dr. K’s dangerous track record, they say he is still free to practice in the state of Texas. If Rick Perry and his band of merry lawmakers were hoping tort reform would attract more doctors to the state, they should have thought about the quality (rather than quantity) of the doctors they would be attracting. Think of the Texas man who had back surgery three months ago and is still unable to get around without a walker. He only recently learned the truth about Dr. K. The victim feels deceived because he searched the Texas Medical Board website for complaints against Dr. K and, of course, nothing turned up. Only you, the people, can stop this nonsense. Vote! Throw the bums out; the bad politicians and the bad doctors. Don’t be another victim of Dr. K or any bad doctor’s negligence; don’t be a victim of senseless, anti-citizen, tort reform, politics and corporate greed.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

10 Comments

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  1. Cilla Mitchell says:
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    The TMB is as useful as teats on a boar hog. So is the Texas Department of Health Services. I often wondered if they take bribes from facilities they inspect or are called to investigate via complaints.

    A few years ago I worked in a facility in Galveston, Texas. I had a patient who was a diabetic with a wound on his foot that need dressing changes three times a day.

    For some reason, I was pulled to another unit for two weeks and then sent back to my unit. When I returned, I did his dressing and knew right away it was a foot that need immediate attention. I sent him to the ER. Long story short, he had to have his foot amputated. I called the Texas Department of Health Services to investigate this because it was charted that his dressings were done per order.

    The dressing changes have been charted they were done in the treatment book. If they were done, why didn’t anyone chart in the nurses notes there was a change in condition in the foot and note the odor and drainage. They didn’t chart it because the documentation in the treatment book was fabricated.

    The State sent a couple of investigators to investigate my complaint. My accusation was false documentation and Medicare fraud since the patient was on Medicare.

    After five days the woman called me up and told me they did not find anything wrong or any wrong doing. I was so pissed and in shock, I point blank asked her , “how much did they pay you?” I then hung up and realized the medical community in Texas went to hell in a hand basket.

    The man died a few weeks later because he was septic.

    Law suits are down because the Texas Tort Reform Act has made it impossible for people to get justice. The medical community can legally murder their patients. You have to prove there was malice involved in order for a lawyer to take the case to court.

    Now how on earth can malice be proved?

    Cilla Mitchell

  2. up arrow

    Most doctors are good and yet they go crazy with fear that someone will say they made a mistake. The anestesiologists got it right. They decided do do closed case studies themselves, as a group, and looked for what was injuring patients. Then they taught their peers how to avoid injury and death. Not perfect, but cleaning up your own house is a wonderful approach. I support the same philosophy and practice for trial lawyers, Let’s get to those lawyers who are hurting their clients and doing harm, and rehab them or root them out of the legal system.

    Cilla: you rock!

    Isn’t there one doctor in the entire country who will come out of the closet and say that they need to go after the bad doctors? Isn’t there one doctor in the entire country who will admit to making a mistake and hurting a patint? Isn’t there one doctor in the country who can see that they, as a profession, are being manipulated by guys like Jim O’Hare from the insurance industry who spread fear and misleading and undocumented opinions? I get calls from great nurses who can’t stand by while the doctors and hospital risk managers and their high paid lawyers do a cover-up. Real case: baby has a heart problm and nurses know what it is. Doctor, on a 72 hour shift, treats the one week old baby for a cold. Finally the nurse gets a book from the medical library and opens it to the page for the condition. Doctor attacks the nurse : “what medical school did you go to ….” and ignors the advice. Baby dies. BTW, the case settled for $200,000. That is what a dead baby is worth in the world of lawyer jokes.

  3. Cilla Mitchell says:
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    There have been quite a few good doctors in the medical community that made my experience as a nurse a worth while experience. Most of the doctors were found in small hospitals in Norman Rockwell type towns, away from cities. The doctors knew their patients and knew the nurses they worked with. Having a partnership of this nature is the best way to deliver patient care. The larger hospitals do not have the partnership between nurses and doctors. Doctors have the exact attitude you mentioned in larger cities, “what medical school did you go to…”

    If a person happens to make a mistake, then there is a price to pay. The price is either having a license revoked, etc. We all make errors because we all are human. Any doctor or nurse telling you they never made a mistake is lying out their teeth. The legal community is there to make sure justice is served when that nurse or doctor makes a mistake that costs the patient either his/her quality of life or his/her life. Tort Reform makes this almost impossible.

    Tort Reform in my opinion is a result of a knee jerk reaction. The law made it possible for substandard doctors to still be practicing medicine. In my opinion, the law failed miserably. If the law had merit, the doctors and or nurses who were substandard would no longer be practicing. Any law designed that prevents an incident to be judged on a case to case basis, does great injustice and harm to the public.

  4. Pete Mackey says:
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    Tort reform is not just deregulation renamed, it is a system designed to give wrongdoers a three step head start for the door. Perhaps when Gov. Perry’s hair transplant go bad, they’ll see some change in Texas.

  5. Pete Mackey says:
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    Tort reform is not just deregulation renamed, it is a system designed to give wrongdoers a three step head start for the door. Perhaps when Gov. Perry’s hair transplant go bad, they’ll see some change in Texas.

  6. Helen M. French says:
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    Please read my “book”…..it will open up one’s eyes to what is “really” occurring in many hospitals and operating rooms throughout the US!
    No other OR RN has come out with the “real” issues which are causing injuries and deaths to hospital and surgical clinic patients.
    ——————————-
    BOOK BY AN OPERATING ROOM REGISTERED NURSE:

    FRENCHIE’S HOSPITAL SURVIVAL TIPS
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0055LH5MU/

    All “types” of E-Books can be downloaded to anyone’s regular old fashion computer or to a laptop……..
    One can save the “book” on one’s computer and / or even print “IT” out on one’s computer.

    I.E. Amazon books can be downloaded to one’s own personal computer i.e. PC or MAC or to a KINDLE pad, iPOD, iPHONE, iTOUCH, and
    ANDROID phone. )
    __________________________________________

    Being a very concerned patient advocate RN for over 33 years in the operating room arena, I wrote a book called:

    Frenchie’s Hospital Survival Tips

    My book has just come out on Amazon.com…………My intent was not only to share my opinions and stories as to why
    the rates of infections, errors, injuries, and deaths are so astronomically high in the United States but
    to warn all those undergoing invasive surgeries about the possibility of unqualified staff being on their
    procedures……………… legal under the vague definitions of delegation and supervision in Virginia and elsewhere.

    Amazon books can be downloaded to one’s own personal computer i.e. PC or MAC or to a KINDLE pad, iPOD, iPHONE, iTOUCH, and ANDROID phone.

    My book covers many topics for all patients. My informal research of many years is valid and my opinions, experiences
    and tips are truthful……….MY book is meant to “save” lives! It was the stories from mothers about the needless death of their
    child while in a hospital, that kept me, even during my most physically painful moments after needless bizarre post-op issues, writing at
    my computer. Sadly, it is my opinion, that the real data and the real stories are not being shared with the public and therefore, there
    is no real transparency in healthcare regarding patient issues!

    I have lived the real data and the real stories personally and vicariously for 33 years. In my opinion, I sadly believe that some of the “nurses
    in power” are responsible for “our” healthcare fiasco. In fact, I believe my book needs to be read by chief administrators at Medicare (CMS), accreditation
    organizations such as JCAHO etc., by federal and state legislators, by all patient advocacy groups, by all potential patients, by the general public, by college ethics classes, and by schools of nursing and schools of medicine.

    Dear reader, may the tips in my book protect you and yours!

    Respectfully,
    Helen M. French RN,BSN
    jnfrench@ntelos.net

  7. Kathleen Cunningham says:
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    I believe the American Public has no idea of the number of unreported medical “misadventures” that actually occur. The majority of malpractice cases are committed by a few “repeat offenders”. The current system allows these docs to go from one state to another with no one being the wiser.

    I investigated a case against a surgeon who kept making mistakes in the same types of surgeries. I was able to find NINE lawsuits in addition to the one I was working on. These cases had taken place in several different states. Eventually he was turned in to the medical board by his own surgical director. The doc underwent medical and psychological evaluations. He was found to have schizoid personality disorder. It was a big mess and a lot of people were hurt during the time period where everyone kept their mouths shut.

    Medical consumers are under the impression that if they can get reliable informaiton if they go to their state medical board to check out a doctor. Little do they know that this is a joke. The board of directors of medical boards are stacked with doctors (no surprise there). As we all know, docs do a terrible job policing each other. In my experience, it is usually criminal activities that end up being reported on medical board websites, not incompetence or negligence.

    A good example of this is Dr. Earl Bradley, a Delaware pediatrician who sexually abused many of his patients. He had been reported for concerns about pedophilia and nothing was done. It was only until years later that the truth came out. He faces hundreds of counts of sexual assaults. Had some action been taken sooner, I would have spared an awful lot of heartache and continuing abuse. A few years ago, had someone checked out his information on the Delaware medical board website, it would show that he was squeaky clean.

    The National Practitioner Data Bank is not available to the public. The AMA and the well funded insurance industry has seen to that.

    If I wanted to buy a clothes dryer, I could hop on the internet and find thousands of consumer reports to help me make an informed decision. If I need brain surgery and want to make an informed decision in selecting a capable surgeon, I am basically out of luck.

    The system is broken. There needs to be more transparency, particularly regarding the repeat offenders.

  8. Cilla Mitchell says:
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    Ms. Cunningham:

    Spot-on.

    Reading your post is like a breath of fresh air, but the truth usually is.

  9. Ben says:
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    St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth MN has sued the Duluth News Tribune for its articles about this doctor. See http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/209851/

  10. Cilla Mitchell says:
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    The Duluth News Tribune is doing a public service. They are living up to the true definition of journalism, reporting the truth to the public and someone needs to give them a medal.