Doctors Bungled Back Surgery and Failed to Notice, Man Says
By William Dotinga
2-8-2013 15:14:00

HONOLULU (CN) - Kaiser doctors incorrectly fused a man's vertebrae during back surgery, resulting in permanent nerve damage and a condition known as "foot drop."

According to a complaint filed Feb. 7 in O'ahu's First Circuit Court, Alan Wehmer says that Kaiser Foundation Hospitals doctor and co-defendant Daniel Donovan fused four of Wehmer's lumbar vertebra during a 2010 surgery. Dr. Donovan also implanted "interbody cages" around the vertebrae, but did not fully insert the cage joining the L-5 and S-1 vertebrae.

Wehmer says that x-rays taken three days after the surgery showed that the unsecured cage had displaced, but Donovan failed to notice. That same day, Wehmer experienced stabbing pains and muscle spasms in his left hip.

"The pains were so severe he was unable to stand. From Jan. 15, 2010 through Jan. 22, 2010, Mr. Wehmer was lying in his hospital bed experiencing excruciating and totally debilitating pain and muscle spasms," according to the complaint.

Wehmer says Donovan traveled to the mainland and turned his care over to another defendant, Dr. Leon Liem. Liem examined the Jan. 15 x-rays and also failed to notice the displaced cages, which had by then migrated to the back of Wehmer's spine.

According to Wehmer's complaint, Liem ordered another round of x-rays the following day, which Wehmer "could not undergo because he was not able to stand on account of his severe pain." Rather than ordering a CT scan - so Wehmer could lie down rather than stand - Liem waited two more days and ordered more x-rays.

Wehmer says those x-rays never happened either, because he still couldn't stand.

Eventually Liem turned Wehmer over to another doctor, who immediately ordered a CT scan. The scan revealed the migrated cage, which had moved into the foramina - a hole in the vertebra which accommodates the spinal nerve root and spinal blood vessels.

"On Jan. 22, 2010, Dr. Thompson operated on Mr. Wehmer and found that the L5-S1 cage was loose and the L5 nerve root on the left side was draped over the cage, resulting in compression of the nerve root. The left cage was removed and bone graft inserted in its place. Following the surgeries, Mr. Wehmer had persistent and permanent foot-drop and bilateral leg pain resulting from the nerve compression from the cage," Wehmer says in his complaint.

Dr. Thompson is not a party in the suit.

Wehmer seeks special and general damages against Donovan, Liem, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. His complaint also names a variety of Does and Doe partnerships, corporations, non-profits, business and government entities.

Wehmer and his companion are represented by Daniel Chur of the Honolulu firm Robinson & Chur.