Surgeon Amputates Patient's Wrong Leg, Says "I Don’t Know" How It Happened

Surgeon Amputates Patient's Wrong Leg, Says "I Don’t Know" How It Happened

The patient died from reasons not related to the amputation and his widow was awarded $5,666 in damages.

A surgeon has been fined for amputating the wrong leg of an elderly patient by mistake. The unnamed 43-year-old surgeon was fined over $3,000 by an Austrian Court on Wednesday, with half of the amount suspended. He was charged with "committing grossly negligent bodily harm" after operating on the 82-year-old man, said Walter Eichinger, the court's vice president, reported CNN. The incident happened on May 18 at a clinic in Freistadt in Austria where the surgeon "carried out an inadequate clarification with the existing medical records and the photo documentation before the operation for the planned amputation of the left thigh and thus marked the right leg for the surgical intervention," said Eichinger on Thursday. 



The hospital released a statement addressing the incident and called it a "tragic mistake, caused by human error." The doctors had marked the wrong leg prior to the procedure. “We are deeply shocked that on Tuesday, May 18, despite quality assurance standards, the wrong leg of an 82-year old man … was amputated,” said the clinic, reported New York Post. They added that the event occurred as a “result of a sequence of unfortunate circumstances.”

The patient's left leg had to be amputated by the thigh but the surgeon ended up amputating the right leg by the thigh "without any medical indication," said Eichinger. When asked why the wrong leg was amputated, the doctor said, "I just don’t know,” before adding that there was a flaw in the chain of command in the operating theatre. The surgeon has since moved on to a new hospital.

Getty Images | Photo by Shannon Fagan


Following the error, the man's left leg, originally penned down for amputation, had to be amputated as well. The patient passed away, due to reasons other than wrongful amputation. The court awarded his widow $5,666 in damages. The accused and the prosecutor will have until 12 p.m. on December 6 to appeal the decision, failing which the Court's judgment will be final from December 7.

The hospital also confirmed an investigation was being conducted on the matter. "We would also like to affirm that we will be doing everything to unravel the case, to investigate all internal processes and critically analyze them. Any necessary steps will immediately be taken," said the hospital at the time. The hospital director publicly apologized for the error at a news conference.

Getty Images | Morsa Images


Though rare, there have been previous instances of such mistakes. In 1995, Sanchez, a surgeon, realized he was amputating the wrong leg halfway through the surgery and then had to continue with the procedure as he had partially cut through the muscle, tendons and ligaments and had no choice but to continue, reported AP News. The incident happened at University Community Hospital in Tampa. Sanchez said he learned of the mistake when a nurse checked paperwork during the surgery. "She was shaking her head, came back, and was crying. Then I knew a mistake was made,″ said Sanchez. He was forced to continue with the amputation. "I tried to recover from that sinking feeling," he told a hearing with the State Board of Medicine. He recalled informing the patient, Willie King, the same after the wrong amputation. "I told him we had removed his left leg. I asked him how he was doing, how did it feel," said Sanchez. The patient, confused, replied, "I thought we were going to do the right." Sanchez then broke the news to him. "That’s right, but we did the left." King got a settlement of $900,000 from University Community Hospital and $250,000 from Sanchez.





Cover image source: Getty Images | Morsa Images