Maureen Pacheco had expected to have a spinal procedure.
It was April 2016, and she was told a surgeon would fuse together a couple of vertebrae in her lower back to help relieve pain believed to be from an injury she sustained in a car accident the previous year. However, when she woke up from surgery at Wellington Regional Medical Center in Wellington, Fla., she learned that the surgeon had done something else, according to court records.
During the spinal procedure, the surgeon, Ramon Vazquez, had allegedly noticed a mass in Pacheco’s pelvis, suspected that it was a cancerous tumor and cut it out, according to an administrative complaint from the Florida Department of Health.
It turned out it wasn’t a tumor.
It was one of Pacheco’s kidneys.
“As you can imagine, when someone goes in for a back surgery, she would never expect to wake up and be told when she’s just waking up from anesthesia, that one of her kidneys has been unnecessarily removed,” Pacheco’s attorney, Donald Ward, told the Palm Beach Post. Ward could not immediately be reached by The Washington Post.
Pacheco sued the surgeon last year, claiming that Vazquez and others were medically negligent when Vazquez “unnecessarily removed” a “fully functioning” kidney. The kidney, which was on Pacheco’s left side, was a pelvic kidney, meaning that during fetal development, it did not ascend to its normal position in the upper abdominal area, according to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
The lawsuit was settled in September for “a nominal amount,” the surgeon’s lawyer, Michael Mittelmark, told The Post. However, Mittelmark said that his client did not admit liability and “does not think he did anything wrong.”
Vazquez is a general surgeon in West Palm Beach. According to the state’s Board of Medicine, he has an active license with no record of discipline on file.
Wellington Regional Medical Center said in a statement Friday that, at the time, Vazquez was an independent physician with privileges at the hospital but “is not and has never been an employee.”
“Dr. Vazquez is no longer on the medical staff of Wellington Regional,” the statement read. “Wellington Regional took all necessary and appropriate steps to review the circumstances of this most unfortunate incident. In the over-30-year history of Wellington Regional Medical Center, an incident of this nature has never occurred before or since.”
Although it’s better to have two functional kidneys, most people can live normal lives with only one, according to the National Kidney Foundation. However, in some cases, having only one can lead to problems later in life, such as an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Leading up to the spinal surgery, Pacheco had undergone two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, which revealed she had a kidney located in her pelvic region, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit stated that on April 29, 2016, Pacheco was preparing to undergo the spinal surgery when Vazquez met with her for the first time and told her that “he would be performing surgery that would expose the surgical site” and then two other surgeons would perform the planned procedure. However, the lawsuit said that during the procedure, Vazquez “deviated from the acceptable standards of medical care and treatment,” by failing to perform a “radiology review” or even inform Pacheco before removing one of her organs.
As a result, according to the lawsuit, Pacheco has suffered “bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement” as well as “mental anguish.”
In December, the Florida Department of Health filed a complaint against Vazquez to the Florida Board of Medicine, stating that Pacheco’s pelvic kidney had nothing to do with the condition for which she was being treated, meaning that it was “a medically unnecessary procedure.”
The health department requested that the board consider suspending or revoking the surgeon’s medical license or put him on probation.