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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.