When you think about medical malpractice -- especially surgical malpractice -- you probably think of a life-saving procedure being botched, or surgical instruments being left inside the body. A doctor's malpractice can happen in any part of diagnosis or treatment, however, and in any procedure -- including elective ones.
In the case of a Virginia woman, the problem was that she underwent breast augmentation surgery, but the doctor put in the wrong size breast implants, apparently because he didn't have the right ones in stock. Worse, he overfilled the smaller implants, which could cause them to fail.
Her attorney admits she is "somewhat embarrassed" to have to file the medical malpractice lawsuit, and that she tried to work out a settlement with the VA hospital in Nevada that made the surgical error. Unfortunately, those efforts failed.
Breast augmentation surgery expensive, emotional
According to numbers released this month by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation is one of the most popular elective surgeries in the U.S. Nearly 300,000 were performed last year.
As popular as it is, having breast augmentation surgery is a difficult and emotional choice for many women. For many who choose the surgery, the size of their breasts has a very real impact on their self-image, and they have decided that enlargement is worth the cost and risk.
The Virginia woman, who is married to an active-duty Air Force Officer, paid $1,850 for the botched surgery and $800 for what should have been 300 cc breast implants. She estimates that having the surgery re-done will cost at least $6,500.
In November 2009, she underwent breast enlargement surgery at the Mike O'Callaghan Federal Hospital near Las Vegas. When she awakened from the procedure, the surgeon told her that he had inserted 250 cc implants and overfilled them to 270 cc. She asked for the surgery to be redone immediately, but the hospital admitted that it had no 300 cc implants in stock. Upon hearing the news, she was "upset and obviously distraught," according to the lawsuit.
The doctor later apologized, but although the woman complained to the hospital's patient advocate, she was "never provided a definitive explanation" as to why they had used the wrong implants instead of postponing the surgery until the correct implants were available.
When her bandages were removed three days after the surgery, the woman was upset and let down. "Even while still swollen from surgery, Mrs. Haden was extremely disappointed by the size of her breast implants," reads the complaint.
Because the defendant is the VA system, the woman filed her medical malpractice lawsuit in federal court in Virginia. She is seeking $150,000 in damages for surgical costs, travel expenses, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.
Her attorney expressed his regret that the parties weren't able to work out a settlement in advance. "The government could have gotten out from this for peanuts," he said.
Both the woman and a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is representing the VA in the lawsuit, have declined to comment.