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September 19, 2014

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Scarred for life by mistake in surgery

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Leila Navidi

When Rosie Powell went to St. Rose Dominican Hospitals: Siena Campus in 2008 to have a colostomy bag removed, surgeons mistook her healthy right kidney for a tumor and removed it.

Rosie Powell

Rosie Powell inside her home in Henderson Thursday, May 27, 2010. Powell went in for surgery at St. Rose Dominican Hospital's Siena campus on April 4, 2008, and during a procedure to remove a colostomy bag, surgeons removed Powell's right kidney, which they mistook for cancer. A CT scan following the procedure also revealed a hole between sutures at the site of the colostomy takedown, and after three more procedures to repair the leak Powell now has an ileostomy bag on her right side because of the complications. She is too traumatized to return to the doctor to get it removed. Launch slideshow »

Surgeon Lyn Knoblock couldn’t identify what appeared to be a tumor in Rosie Powell’s abdomen.

She consulted her colleague Dr. Gregg Ripplinger, according to court records, and the surgeons decided to remove the mass, which they believed to be cancer. Knoblock sent the mass to the pathology lab for identification.

It was a healthy right kidney.

Powell has been disabled and consumed with worry since that day, April 4, 2008. She’s 76 and suffers from diabetes, a disease that is hard on kidneys.

Powell had been optimistic when she entered St. Rose Dominican Hospitals — Siena Campus. Knoblock was supposed to remove a colostomy bag, and Powell was looking forward to the freedom. As she was recovering, Knoblock gave her the news.

“I’m sorry, I thought it might be a tumor,” Powell says the doctor told her.

Powell says the surgeon told her she could survive with one kidney. Powell was incredulous.

“It’s better two than one,” she replied.

Powell’s medical records indicate that she had been born with an oddly placed right kidney, but it was healthy, the lawsuit alleges. She never received a better explanation of the mistake.

Knoblock and Ripplinger and their attorneys did not return calls for this story. Officials from St. Rose, which is owned by California-based Catholic Healthcare West, said in a statement that they care about patient safety and investigate “potential adverse events” and take action when necessary to address concerns.

In a court filing, Knoblock’s attorney said the doctors’ action “at most, rises to the level of negligence.”

Accidentally removing a patient’s kidney would qualify under Nevada law as a sentinel event — an incident in which a patient was harmed at the hospital — and would require the hospital to file a corrective action plan and notify the patient. In its investigation of hospital quality in Las Vegas, the Sun has identified apparent underreporting of sentinel events in Nevada, which the state is investigating. It’s not known whether St. Rose reported the incident as a sentinel event because that information is confidential. But Powell said she never heard from the hospital about the mistake.

The kidney removal wasn’t the only problem encountered by Powell. After the surgery, she complained of severe pain and an inability to eat, the lawsuit said. A CT scan revealed a hole between sutures at the site of the colostomy takedown. Knoblock did not note the injury in her postoperative report, the lawsuit alleges.

Powell underwent three more procedures to repair the leak and because of the complications, she has an ileostomy bag on her right side to collect waste, the lawsuit said.

Powell spent nearly a month in medical facilities because of the complications. The ileostomy bag is still her companion. She’s too traumatized to go to any doctor to have the bag removed.

Powell lives alone in Henderson on a meager income. Taking walks was her simple pleasure before the surgeries, but because of the ileostomy bag she seldom leaves home.

She said she feels depressed, angry and helpless.

“The damage is already done,” Powell said. “I was a happy person. I walked every day for one hour. Not no more. I can’t do that anymore.”

Knoblock and Ripplinger still practice at St. Rose hospitals.

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