Las Vegas Sun

January 30, 2015

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Double ouch: Doctor operates on wrong knee


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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  1. This is a prime example of why the country should expedite medical malpractice reform. To protect doctors and insurance companies' profits from "pieces of meat" that don't appreciate their insurance company being billed for two surgeries after the "piece of meat" was told he would get two for one. The country shouldn't let little things like this take away the profits of hard-working doctors and the underpaid CEOs at their insurance company. Just shameful!

  2. "The anesthesiologist and the surgeon joked that I was getting "two for one." ( I bet they wouldn't trade places with him ).
    "There were some new personnel in the surgery that day" ( Sure there was; Name them! I bet they say they are not at liberty to say ).
    Had the Doctors and hospital been as diligent about preventing this from happening as they are about being sued then it could have been avoided,
    And I can't help but think that some where in all this it will be classed as a frivolous law suit.

  3. Back when ER was on the air, character "Rocket Romano" had to have his arm amputated. He took out a marker as Guns4hire suggested and wrote "not this one, you idiot" on his good arm. Not a bad idea.

  4. This was caused by libertarians and people like Senator John Ensign,who said on the Alan Stock Republican News Show that: "we should have tort reform." We already do, so does California, and the bodies are stacked up like cord-wood because of these butchers.

    paging Dr. Desai...Paging Dr. Desai....

    The libertarian, anti-government regulation types (like the Tucson shooter) should be considered mentally deranged, they and their mentality are responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people when you consider the work accidents, defective products, indentured servitude and slavery that they have supported over the years, not to mention the wars they supported.

  5. Dr. Andrew Welch should NEVER EVER EVER be allowed to perform surgery again.

  6. This is precisely the reason I wrote the words YES and NO on my legs prior to having knee replacement surgery.

  7. Why isn't the Board of Medical Examiners doing anything about this quack? This is the same doctor who mangled one of my friend's knees a few years back.

    Take a look at his record from the Board of Medical Examiners:

  8. It's not the first time he's performed surgery on the wrong limb.

    I also question any facility that would give this quack privileges.

    I hope the Sun does some follow up with the Board of Medical Examiners and the various hospitals/surgery centers where he is allowed to operate.

  9. Quality right there...

  10. And they want Las Vegas to be a medical tourism destination.

  11. i think i kinda like the idea that the Sun is doing this to raise public awareness about whats going on in the medical field here in Vegas. Some stories may be exaggerated, some may not be true (depends on people submitting their stories i guess) but at least it makes the public aware of things to watch out for when availing of medical services...

  12. Hi isohatethem, thanks for your comment on our stories about the medical field in Las Vegas. I wanted to note that we do not publish stories that are not true, and we do not exaggerate them, either (though we have been accused of doing so by some in the medical industry).

    I am careful to ensure that these cases actually did take place. In the case of this wrong-site surgery, the doctor and hospital do not deny that it happened, they just disagree about who is to blame. Every time I write one of these stories, I go directly to the doctors and hospitals involved for their comment. In most cases, I also verify that the incidents took place by acquiring the patient's medical records.

    If you want to see all of our recent coverage about patient harm in Las Vegas hospitals, go to this link:


  13. Well, I'm sure he's happy it wasn't an amputation or a kidney removal... BOTH of which have happened, and more than once.
    Agree with Guns4hire...

  14. Holy cow!

    looks like Dr. Welch graduated Med School in 1971, which means he's probably pushing 70. Experience is one thing, but I don't think I'd want a 70 year old surgeon operating on me.

    You read about this happening often enough, that when I had shoulder surgery, I actually wrote "NO" with a sharpie on my good shoulder.....

  15. The biggest problem I see other than the obvious surgery on the incorrect side is the lack of consent for operating on the correct side. The patient was waking up from anesthesia and therefore any verbal or written consent would be illegal. Therefore Dr Welch, the anesthesiologist and hospital effectively committed a felonious assault on the patient. North vista hospital sounds great.

  16. thanks, marshall. Its great to know that you exercise due diligence in writing your stories. The Sun's regular readers would be happy to know that. I did say I was referring to people who 'tell' their stories, not you guys who write the stories. so you're good, in my book. :)

  17. Back in New York a guy had the wrong leg cut off. After discovering the mistake they then had to take him back into surgery and cut off the bad leg.

    The patient sued. But the judge threw the case out of court.

    He didn't have a leg to stand on.

    (Sorry Steve, go get them.) Dipstick, you're down four quarts, your rods are knocking!!!

  18. I'm generally not one in favor of the many frivolous lawsuits out there....
    But this is true malpractice and this guy deserves to be paid for the inconvenience and pain he has suffered. Also, the insurance company should not pay a dime to anyone involved, and the victim should not be billed a dime either. When a mistake is made, own up to it. The correct operation should be "on the house".
    If the first (wrong) surgery was billed to insurance, they are guilty of fraud.
    I think the total amount of his damages (lost work, all medical bills, future knee surguries, etc.) should be paid by the doctor/hospital, along with a six figure amount for his suffering.
    At least he's lucky in one way, I've heard stories of the wrong leg being amputated, or the wrong patient having an amputation....ouch!

  19. c-bess writes:

    "Remember this story the next time the GOP is screaming about mean old trial lawyers and how horrible it is that the doctors might actually be held accountable for their mistakes. If the GOP wasn't getting its pockets lined by the docs this wouldn't happen."

    GEE you mean kind of like the American Trial Lawyers Association, one of the biggest contributors to the DNC, lines the pockets of the Democrats? and the fact that there are more lawyers just in the state of California than there are physicians in the entire country?

    Or how about the fact that almost HALF of the members of both houses of congress are ATTORNEYS? and the vast majority of them are DEMOCRATS.

    and are you still going to call the over 2,000 page Obamacare monstrosity health care "reform" when not a single page addresses TORT REFORM?

    hmmmmmm? how bout that sweet bessy?

    and it has been estimated that frivolous lawsuits and the need for doctors to practice defensive medicine account for over 30% of health care costs in this country.

    Take off your Dumbocrat goggles.

  20. @just_an_average_joe: We were told how much we needed tort reform in this state, that it would lower costs. The only thing I have seen happen is that costs have increased dramatically while at the same time allowing quacks to harm Nevadans and the Nevadans get screwed because they have no recourse to go after the physicians. Try leaving off the talking points and deal with some facts in the real world.