An Austrian hospital in Freistadt says a patient accidentally had the wrong leg amputated by mistake. The 82-year-old man came to the facility to have his left leg removed due to a previous illness, but the surgeon took his right leg instead.
She didn’t realize her mistake until two days later.
A Dangerous Mix-up
The incident occurred on May 18, 2021. Just a few days later, medical director Norbert Fritsch announced the tragic mistake to the press.
“A disastrous combination of circumstances led to the patient’s right leg being amputated instead of his left,” Fritsch said.
During the press conference, he said that the mistake was discovered two days later when the staff was changing dressings. The patient himself didn’t notice the mistake due to his illness. The attending physician appears to have marked the wrong leg by putting an arrow above his right foot. She then asked the patient to double-check before starting the procedure, but he had limited communication skills due to his illness.
Soon after the problem came to light, the surgeon dismissed herself from her position.
“We have to figure out how this failure, this mistake, could have happened. I would like to apologize publicly here,” Fritsch said.
The Freistadt Hospital subsequently filed a complaint against the surgeon.
“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,” the hospital said at the time.
The patient was later offered psychological assistance, but his left leg still had to be removed. He had to undergo another operation to remove his left leg from the mid-thigh.
Fined for Negligence
Just last week, the surgeon appeared in Linz Regional Court to testify about her actions. She said the mistake was due to “human error”, citing problems with the hospital’s chain of command.
When the court asked her why she marked the patient’s right leg instead of his left, she said, “I just don’t know.”
The court found her guilty of negligence. She was fined 2,700 euros, or just over $3,100, for her actions.
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 Walter Eichinger, the vice president of the court.
The right thigh was then “amputated without any medical indication,” Eichinger added.
The elderly man died before he could have his day in court for reasons unrelated to the amputation. The court also awarded $5,666 to the man’s window.
The surgeon has since moved to another clinic.
You might be surprised to learn this has happened before. Earlier this year, an 84-year-old woman had the wrong leg amputated at the Owen King European Hospital (OKEUH) in St. Lucia.
Evet Jones went to the hospital on March 10, 2021, to have her left leg amputated. However, the staff accidentally took her right leg by mistake.
Her daughter, Maryann Charles, said that the doctor has since apologized for the incident.
“I forgive him already because he said it was a mistake he made and when he was saying that he was crying so I just told him I forgive him,” she told reporters at the time.
Just two weeks later, the staff had no choice but to remove Jones’ left leg as well.
Charles said every day is a struggle for her mother now that she’s lost both of her limbs. “It is a big challenge for us. Right now, we have no help from the government and we (the family) doing everything, and my mom worries about it all the time because she was accustomed to being on her feet, moving about on her own, going and sit down on the block etc. and now she can’t do what she wants to.”
To help ease their suffering, the Saint Lucia Diabetes and Hypertension Association and Ambassador of CARICOM and the OCES, Her Excellency Elma Gena Isaac and the Authentic Caribbean Foundation, an NGO based in Massachusetts who assist individuals in the diaspora and the Caribbean, donated a motorized wheelchair to the family to help Jones get around.
“We did our homework, and we came up with a member who suffered an unfortunate, heart-wrenching event and we felt that she was best suited to receive the chair,” said Chief Executive Officer of the SLDHA, Joseph Charlemagne.
“I want to praise and thank everyone for this wheelchair for my mom and I know it will go a long way and she will be happy to have it,” Maryann Charles said.