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Austrian doctor fined for amputating wrong leg

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A surgeon in Austria who was sued for amputating the wrong leg of a patient is now facing the consequences. Earlier this year, the doctor amputated the right leg of an elderly patient – even though the left leg was supposed to be amputated.

Before the surgery, which took place in May at a clinic in Freistadt, the wrong limb was marked for amputation, according to AFP news agency. The mistake was discovered two days later, during a routine bandage change. The patient was told he would need his other leg amputated as well. 

The 43-year-old doctor was sued and a court in Linz found her guilty of gross negligence. She is now fined €2,700 BBC News reports, about $3,053.

The patient died before the case came to court. His widow has been awarded €5,000, about $5,651, in damages. 

The director of the clinic publicly apologized and the hospital said the incident was the “result of a sequence of unfortunate circumstances.” The doctor said in court there was a flaw in the chain of command in the operating room. 

She said she “made a mistake” and blamed human error, but denied “gross negligence,” according to Kurier, a German-language newspaper based in Austria. She did not know how she could’ve marked the wrong leg.

Upper Austrian Health Holding (OÖG), which operates the clinic, said in a press conference after the court hearing that the incident was investigated, and the team did have safety training, according to Kurier.

CBS News has reached out to OÖG and the clinic and is awaiting response. CBS News has also reached out to the regional court in Linz for more information and is awaiting response.

The doctor has moved to another clinic and half of her fine has been suspended, according to BBC News.

Mistakes like this are extremely rare, but some similar incidents have occurred. In 1995, a doctor in the U.S. realized halfway through surgery he was amputating the wrong leg of a diabetic patient, according to the Associated Press. The patient received a $900,000 settlement from University Community Hospital in Tampa, Florida, and a $250,000 settlement from Dr. Rolando Sanchez.

Sanchez said in court said a surgery report and a blackboard with a schedule of surgeries mistakenly listed the patient’s lower left leg was to be amputated, the AP reports. Halfway through surgery, a nurse who had double-checked paper work came to the doctor, crying, saying it was supposed to be the right leg.

In a similar, yet still rare, medical mistake earlier this year, a patient at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center received a kidney transplant intended for another person. University Hospitals said in a statement that the kidney was compatible and the patient was expect to recover, although another patient’s transplant surgery was delayed by the mistake, CBS affiliate WOIO reports.

The hospital said it is carefully reviewing the situation and has notified the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the national organ transplant system.



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