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July 4, 2015

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Double ouch: Doctor operates on wrong knee

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Justin M. Bowen

Steve Anderson had to rehab two knee surgeries at once after a doctor operated on the wrong leg.

Steve Anderson immediately noticed a problem when he awoke from surgery at North Vista Hospital on Aug. 13, 2009.

His surgeon, Dr. Andrew Welch, was supposed to clean up the cartilage in his right knee.

But the bandages were on his left knee.

Welch had operated on the wrong leg.

Anderson is suing the doctor and the hospital. They wouldn’t comment for this story, but in court filings blame each other for the mistake.

Anderson, a 54-year-old communications engineer, just wants someone to take responsibility — they both, after all, billed his insurance company for each of the surgeries. He did not suffer any long-term disability, but he’s much more careful with his knees when he works or enjoys a game of golf. And he wants the assurance that future patients will be protected.

The interview with Anderson has been edited for clarity.

How did they inform you of this mistake?

They didn’t. I informed them. I was in the recovery room. I woke up and looked down. I asked the nurse why the bandage was on the wrong leg. Everybody in the room got pretty excited. Next thing I know the doctor is at the side of the bed saying: “Well, looks like I worked on the wrong knee.” They asked me if I wanted corrective surgery on the other one. I was high as a kite and said, “Sure, why not?”

Later I wished I had not done the other knee at that time. The recovery is difficult enough with one bad leg. But I had to get a walker and hobble around on both legs. The recovery was more than twice as long as it should have been. I was out of work almost two months.

Did they seem concerned about the error?

The doctors seemed pretty glib about it. No harm, no foul. The anesthesiologist and the surgeon joked that I was getting “two for one.”

What was your reaction days later?

Shock. How could the doctor make a mistake like that? The year before he did the same surgery on the left knee without any issues. When they got in there and worked on the left knee again you’d have thought he would have noticed that someone had already been in there. He should have realized, “Here’s Steve Anderson on the table. I’m supposed to do his right knee. Let’s check the paperwork on that.” My trust in that whole process is shot.

Did they ever apologize?

When my girlfriend came to pick me up, she flipped her cork. She was screaming and hollering. Then the hospital personnel were very apologetic that it occurred. She wasn’t accepting any of that. She said they shouldn’t have done the second surgery. The day after the surgery the hospital called me. They had a room full of people on the phone. The hospital may have apologized that day. They said they were investigating and that there were some new personnel in the surgery that day. They knew their procedures hadn’t been followed.

I avoided conversations with the doctor. I still hold a grudge against him.

Why are you suing them?

If you have procedures, you have to follow them, and if you don’t follow them, stop what you’re doing. I’ve really lost my trust in the medical profession. It’s almost like you’re a piece of meat. I’m hoping there can be some recognition and some fallout so this won’t happen to somebody else. My God, what if they had cut off an arm or something?

What advice do you give to other patients?

Be absolutely certain that your doctors know what they’re doing. Once you’re asleep, you have no say about it.

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