New Jersey Moves to Strip License of Surgeon Who Removed Wrong Lung

19 Corporate Crime Reporter 24(1), June 8, 2005

The New Jersey Attorney General has moved to strip the license of a doctor who surgically removed more than half of the healthy right lung of a patient who had been diagnosed with a small cancerous tumor in his left lung.

In papers filed with the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, the Attorney General is seeking to strip the license of Dr. Santusht Perera, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The Attorney General charged Dr. Perera with “gross malpractice” for operating on the wrong lung.

The patient, Richard Flagg, was diagnosed with a tumor in his left lung.

In September 2000, Flagg was admitted to a hospital in New Jersey to have a simple, small tumor removed from his left lung.

Instead, surgeons removed more than half of his healthy right lung.

Flagg said that after the operation, he woke up and found that he had been operated on his right side.

“I was pretty groggy when I woke up,” Flagg told Corporate Crime Reporter in an extensive interview in March 2003. “It was the next day when most of the morphine wore off, that I felt a big bulk on my right side. And it hurt. The doctor came in that day, and I asked him – why did you operate on my right lung? And he said – while you were asleep, we did an x-ray and we found a much larger, a much more dangerous, tumor in your right lung, as well as severe hemorrhaging. By doing this operation, I probably saved your life, he said.”

Six months later, in the spring of 2001, Flagg saw a pathologist’s report showing that his right lung was healthy before the operation.

The pathology report noted no tumors in the right lung, Flagg said.

The surgeon had removed most of his healthy right lung while leaving his left lung untreated.

Flagg died on September 8, 2003.

His attorney, Charles Rock, said the insurance companies waited for Flagg to die before settling the case, knowing that the value of his claim would drop dramatically after he died – as it did from a multi-million claim to claim worth under $2 million.

But Rock did not reveal the amount of the settlement.

The case was settled in June 2004 on the eve of trial.

While Flagg was alive, Rock approached the Hudson County prosecuting attorney, asking that the prosecutor bring some kind of a homicide action.

No case was brought.

“You had falsification of records,” Rock said. “You had perjury. And you had Richard Flagg dying as result. And yet no criminal charge was brought.”

Sal Rozzi, an investigator at the prosecutor’s office, did not return a call seeking comment on this story.

Rock said that Flagg died penniless and in debt.

“He had borrowed money from a company that loans money based on the merits of the case,” Rock said. “His estate had to pay that back out of the settlement. It was awful.”

Dr. Perera’s attorney, Michael Keating, did not return calls seeking comment.

Jenene Morris of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs said that in 2004 the Board of Medical Examiners stripped 33 doctors of their licenses and another 33 lost their licenses in 2003.

There were 41 suspensions in 2004 and 24 suspensions in 2003, she said.



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