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Lawsuit: Florida surgeon removed woman’s kidney by mistake during back surgery

A Florida woman recently settled a medical malpractice lawsuit against a surgeon who removed her fully-functioning kidney during a 2016 spinal surgery. 

Maureen Pacheco’s lawsuit against Dr. Ramon Vazquez was settled last month, according to Palm Beach County court records. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. 

>> Read more trending news

Pacheco, a West Palm Beach resident, was 51 years old and suffering from back pain due to a car crash when she was scheduled to undergo anterior lumbar interbody fusion surgery in April 2016, the October 2017 lawsuit said. The surgery, which took place at Wellington Regional Medical Center, is described by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons as a “welding process,” in which problematic vertebrae in a person’s spine are fused together into one larger bone. 

The term anterior meant that doctors would go in from Pacheco’s abdomen instead of her back. The academy explains on its website that an anterior procedure allows more direct access to the discs between the vertebrae, which are removed during the procedure, and offers a quicker recovery time. 

Surgeons are also able to access the spine without moving nerves out of the way, but they have to move organs and blood vessels to the side to reach the spine, the website says

Pacheco told WPTV in West Palm Beach there were no signs of what would go wrong when she prepared for the operation. 

“There was no red flags or anything,” Pacheco told the news station

Pacheco’s orthopedic surgeons that day were Dr. John Britt and Dr. Jeffrey Kugler, who was the treating physician. Vazquez, a general surgeon with staff privileges at the hospital, was assigned with opening the patient up and providing access to the surgical site so the other doctors could perform the fusion. 

An administrative complaint against Vazquez filed with the state medical board by Florida Department of Health officials -- the outcome of which is still pending -- described what happened next.

“During the surgical procedure, (Vazquez) noted a pelvic mass and provided a presumptive diagnosis of a gynecologic malignancy, lymphoma and/or other metastatic disease,” the December 2017 complaint stated. “The pelvic mass was clipped, transected and removed in its entirety.”

A few days later, a hospital pathologist discovered that the mass was not cancer -- it was Pacheco’s left kidney. 

It turned out that Pacheco had a “pelvic kidney,” which occurs when a person’s kidney does not ascend like it should as the organs develop in utero. The kidney remains in the pelvis instead of settling in the flank. 

Read the administrative complaint against Dr. Ramon Vazquez below.

Pacheco’s lawyers argued in the lawsuit that Vazquez was provided with MRI images taken of their client’s spine in February 2015 and February 2016. The images showed that Pacheco had a pelvic kidney. 

The MRIs also showed that the kidney was functional, the document said. 

“If he would have looked at the MRIs that were given to him, he would’ve realized it,” Pacheco told WPTV

Vazquez never confirmed what was on the images or discussed the images with Kugler and Britt before removing Pacheco’s kidney, according to the lawsuit. He also failed to biopsy the “mass” before deciding to remove it, the health department complaint stated

Pacheco was not consulted about the removal or given options for treatment of what Vazquez thought he found, the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit stated that Kugler and Britt were negligent because they failed to exhaust all “conservative pain management options” before recommending surgery, and that they should have confirmed that Vazquez consulted with Pacheco and looked at the MRIs before opening her up. 

The doctors also failed to ensure that Vazquez knew she had a pelvic kidney prior to surgery, the lawsuit said. 

The Palm Beach Post reported that the medical malpractice insurers for Kugler and Britt settled the case for $250,000 per doctor. 

Wellington Regional revoked Vazquez’s privileges following the incident. Hospital officials told WPTV that all necessary and appropriate steps were taken to ensure it did not happen again. 

“In the 30-year history of Wellington Regional Medical Center, an incident of his nature has never occurred, before or since,” a hospital statement read

Vazquez’s attorney, Mike Mittelmark, told the Post his client did not admit wrongdoing in settling with Pacheco.

“The case was settled on his behalf for a nominal amount due to the uncertainty of litigation and in no way did Dr. Vazquez admit liability by agreeing to this settlement,” Mittelmark told the newspaper

Read the entire lawsuit filed by Maureen Pacheco below. 

Florida law subjects a doctor to discipline for performing or trying to perform a procedure on the wrong patient, a procedure at the wrong site, a wrong procedure or an unauthorized procedure that is medically unnecessary or otherwise unrelated to the patient’s diagnosis or condition. That includes while preparing the patient, the health department’s complaint stated

“Respondent performed a medically unnecessary procedure on (Pacheco) by removing a pelvic kidney during a lumbar fusion,” the complaint said. 

The recommendation of Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip was for Vazquez to suffer permanent revocation or suspension of his license, restriction of practice, imposition of a fine, a reprimand, probation, corrective action, refund of fees collected, remedial education “and/or any other relief the board deems appropriate.”

Pacheco’s attorney, Donald Ward III, said he didn’t expect Vazquez to lose his medical license over what happened. 

“It’s unlikely that he would lose his license over something like this,” Ward told WPTV. “What is most likely is that he would face a fine and possibly be required to do some continuing medical education so that he could learn not to make the same mistake in the future.”

There were some oddities about the case, however, on top of Pacheco losing a healthy kidney. 

“What is not common is for you to meet that general surgeon the morning of (surgery) and be told that if something were to happen to you, that general surgeon doesn’t carry any health insurance whatsoever,” Ward said

Vazquez did not have malpractice insurance, which means if he is fined by the state, the fine will have to be paid out of the doctor’s own pocket, the lawyer said.

Pacheco said she harbors “no ill will” against Vazquez.

“Everyone is entitled to their livelihood, but you should have consequences when gross mistakes and negligence are made,” she told the news station. “I just wish that he learns a lesson from the consequences. It’s always in the back of my mind -- lifelong kidney transplant or dialysis.

“Now I’m always fearful.”

Man shows up at Halloween party in KKK robe, hood

A Mississippi man found himself banned from a Picayune bar after he showed up to a Halloween costume party Saturday dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The unidentified man walked into Mutt & BC’s Bar and Grill, where a costume contest was taking place, wearing a white robe and pointed hood reminiscent of the outfit worn by Klan members. He carried a Mississippi state flag, which is the only state flag in the United States to still utilize the Confederate battle flag in its design. 

Chance Delaney, who posted a photo of the man’s costume on Facebook, told the Jackson Clarion Ledger that he received the image from a friend who asked to remain anonymous. 

“This was worn for a costume contest at a bar in Picayune, Ms., and they say racism is dead,” Delaney wrote in a post. “DISGUSTING.”

Bryan Carroll, co-owner of Mutt & BC’s, agreed. He told the Clarion Ledger he made the man leave and barred him from returning to the establishment. 

“We do not tolerate or condone racism at any level of our business, customers or staff,” Carroll told the newspaper. “Everyone is welcome, and we do have all walks of life and all races that patronize our place.”

Carroll said several black patrons were in the bar when the man, who was not a regular customer, came in with his “garbage” costume, the newspaper said. 

>> Read more trending news

The man’s actions came hours after a gunman walked into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing 11 congregants who had gathered to worship on Shabbat, which is the Jewish Sabbath. Six others were injured, including four police officers responding to the shooting.

The alleged gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, shouted that “all Jews must die” as he opened fire, police officials said. 

Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero praised how Carroll handled the bar patron’s costume choice, which he described as unacceptable. 

“The city of Picayune does not support any type of racist or derogatory actions, period, whether it’s true to life or a costume party,” Pinero told the Clarion Ledger

Mississippi is not the only state where Halloween costumes have sparked outrage in recent weeks. A Kentucky man last week found himself defending -- and then apologizing for -- his choice to dress his 5-year-old son as Adolph Hitler

Bryant Goldbach, of Owensboro, went to a city trick-or-treating event dressed as a Nazi officer, while his son wore a suit, a swastika armband and a Hitler mustache. Goldbach initially defended his choice by saying the costumes were historical, but later backed down. 

“I think it was in bad taste for me to let my child to wear that, probably for me to wear that. It didn't occur to me,” Goldbach told WEHT. “I thought it was a bad decision on my part.”

The Anti-Defamation League reported in February that anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose almost 60 percent in 2017, the larges single-year jump on record and the second-highest number of incidents since the ADL began tracking data in the 1970s. There were 1,986 incidents reported across the country, occurring in all 50 states for the first time in at least 10 years, the organization reported.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members in the U.S. as of last year.  

Savannah unamused by googly eyes placed on historic statue: 'It's a crime'

The Nathanael Greene Monument in Savannah, Georgia, was defaced with googly eyes this week, the city posted on its official Facebook page.

>> On AJC.com: Georgia town among America’s top 3 small cities, according to Condè Nast

“It may look funny but harming our historic monuments and public property is no laughing matter, in fact, it's a crime,” officials wrote.

>> See the post here

According to the Savannah Morning News, police are investigating the incident and searching for the vandal responsible.

Defacing, defiling or mutilating a grave marker, monument or memorial devoted to a deceased individual who served in the military is considered criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor offense. But if the damage is upwards of $500, it’s a felony crime: criminal damage to property.

>> On AJC.com: Wilderness, wildlife, bamboo and fossils: The Savannah you don't know

Greene, who served as a major general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War is buried in Johnson Square. Though he never fought in Georgia, his military strategy and leadership helped free Georgia from British forces.

The soldier moved to Savannah with his family after the war, but died of heat stroke shortly after in 1786.

From the monument’s historical marker in Johnson Square:

The 50-foot, white marble obelisk, designed by the well-known architect, William Strickland, was completed in 1830. The original cornerstone was laid here on March 21, 1825, by Greene's old friend, the Marquis de LaFayette. At the dedicatory ceremony General LaFayette said:

>> Read more trending news 

"The great and good man to whose memory we are paying a tribute of respect, affection, and regret, has acted in our revolutionary contest a part so glorious and so important that in the very name of Greene are remembered all the virtues and talents which can illustrate the patriot, the statesman, and the military leader ..."

Man in wheelchair dies after 100-foot tumble down escalator at Metro station in D.C.

A man in a wheelchair died Wednesday after he attempted to go up an escalator at a Metro station in Washington, D.C., authorities said. 

The man tried to go up an escalator around 1:30 p.m. at the Columbia Heights Metro Station, a Metro spokesman told NBC 4 in Washington. Security footage showed the man, whose name was not released Wednesday, initially tried to use the elevator.

“A review of camera footage revealed the man waited 10 to 15 seconds for the elevator, which was in service at the time, and then diverted to the escalator,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly told The Washington Post

The footage showed that the man tried to steady his motorized chair by holding onto the handrails on either side of him, but the wheelchair tipped backward and fell on top of him, NBC 4 reported

While lightweight manual wheelchairs can weigh as little as 15 to 20 pounds, electric wheelchairs can weigh in excess of 200 pounds, depending on the weight of the motor and other components. 

The Post reported that the victim reached the top of the escalator before tipping over. Fox 5 in D.C. reported that officers estimated the escalator to be about 100 feet long. 

A witness to the aftermath of Wednesday’s accident told the NBC affiliate that several people attempted to help the man, who was lying on the ground, his legs covered with blood. The exact nature of the victim’s injuries were not made public. 

>> Read more trending news

“Several bystanders and the station manager immediately rendered aid until medics arrived,” Ly told the Post. “The man was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced deceased.”

The escalator was shut down for hours as investigators took notes and photos, NBC 4 said.  

The Post reported that while the Metro is considered one of the most accessible public transit systems in the country for people with physical disabilities, the people who must rely on the transit system’s elevators say they often encounter elevators that are out of service. 

Some Metro users voiced that same frustration on social media. 

“Incredibly tragic,” Anthony LaMesa wrote. “This man was likely so inured to #WMATA elevators being broken that he just assumed it would never come.”

Another Twitter user, Christopher Walkup, wrote that D.C. needs to become a more accessible city for everyone. 

A woman responding to a tweet last week about problems within the Metro system wrote about having to be carried up the stairs because the elevator at one station had broken down.

“I had to figure out how to get my wheelchair up & down stairs bcuz no one knew the elevator was broken & knew it wouldn’t be fixed,” wrote the woman, whose Twitter handle is Mama Penguin. “I had to be carried up while someone lugged my chair, just so we could try and find a Metro (with) working elevators late on a weekend. Not that bad my (expletive).”

Another Twitter user wrote that all he sees on Twitter is complaints about how nothing within the D.C. Metro works for the disabled. 

“And now here are your results,” the man wrote, posting a story about Wednesday’s fatal accident.  

'Emotional support' squirrel gets woman kicked off Frontier flight

A Frontier Airlines passenger at Florida's Orlando International Airport was removed from her flight by police Tuesday after she tried to bring her "emotional support" squirrel on board

The woman refused to get off the Cleveland-bound plane, so the crew called police. 

>> No dogs in shopping carts: Publix enforcing service pet policies

Frontier Airlines officials said the woman noted in her reservation that she was bringing an emotional support animal but did not indicate it was a squirrel. 

Rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights, officials said. 

The crew asked the woman to get off the plane, but she allegedly refused. Orlando police were called and asked everyone to deplane so they could deal with the woman. 

Officers eventually escorted the passenger off the plane and brought her to the main terminal. 

Video shows crowds cheering as she was taken off the plane. 

>> See the video here

The incident is one of many recent cases involving emotional support animals on planes. 

In another case, a woman tried to get an emotional support peacock through security at Newark. 

In the last year, all the major airlines have changed their policies for bringing animals into the cabin. 

>> Read more trending news 

Most airlines require a note from a doctor, advanced notification and the animal’s vaccine records. 

Most airlines have also restricted which types of support animals are allowed on board. 

Delta, for example, has banned goats, hedgehogs and any animals with horns.

Florida man charged with practicing unlicensed dentistry for making grills

A 26-year-old Florida man was arrested Friday on charges of practicing dentistry without a license, the Leesburg Police Department said.

>> Watch the news report here

Investigators said Allen Turner had been making custom molds for dental grills at his home.

Turner told WFTV on Monday that he was unaware that what he was doing was illegal and that he considers himself more of a jeweler.

He said a Florida Department of Health investigator and a police officer visited his home to order him to stop doing the work and he obeyed them.

>> On WFTV.com: Overdoses lead Ocala police to alleged drug house that had drive-thru window, authorities say

"I see a lot of people doing it," Turner said. "(I) never figured you need a license for it."

Police said they discovered multiple drills, cutting tools and other equipment at his home.

"I think people make assumptions when things are just cosmetic in nature – that it doesn't necessarily require licensing," Leesburg police Lt. Joe Iozzi said.

>> Read more trending news 

Turner said he was fined $1,000 and was arrested several weeks later, once the state attorney's office chose to file charges against him.

He said business had been good thanks to Facebook.

"This is big in the hip-hop industry," Turner said.

He said he would charge customers several hundred dollars apiece, but he has chosen to call it quits.

"I don't want to do it no more, man," Turner said. "I don't want no parts of it. None at all. None at all, man."

Turner was released from the Lake County Jail after paying bail. He has a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 22.

'I'm a Kardashian,' Florida woman claims before pushing neighbor, deputies say

A Florida woman who claimed she was a “Kardashian” was arrested on a battery charge after a confrontation with a neighbor, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.

>> See the Facebook post here

Last week, Crystal Kohler, 35, approached her neighbor and said, “I’m a Kardashian. I’m going to (expletive) you up,” and then pushed the victim with both hands, deputies said

When deputies asked Kohler why she did it, she said the neighbor was too “nosy,” according to an incident report.

>> Read more trending news 

The victim said she has ongoing issues with Kohler, who randomly yells at her for no reason.

Kohler remains in the Marion County Jail on a charge of simple battery.

Church floor collapses during funeral, injuring mourners 

A funeral being held in a historic Louisiana church Saturday was interrupted when the floor below the mourners collapsed, injuring several people. 

The Daily Star in Hammond reported that the floor at the Greater St. James AME Church was weakened by termite damage. As the family and friends of Carl Weary walked into the sanctuary for his memorial, the beams broke under their weight. 

“The foundation went down and the wood floor cracked,” Walter Ard, a witness and the contractor who built the church’s roof, told the Daily Star

Another witness, Clifford Walker, told the newspaper that the floor gave way without warning. He attributed the incident to “years of neglect and termite infestation.”

>> Read more trending news

Lacy Landrum, director of administration for the city of Hammond, told the Daily Star that nearly a dozen people had to be rescued. Several of them suffered minor injuries, and two mourners had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital. 

According to a website belonging to the Greater St. James Historic Preservations, the church was established in 1867 as a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was the first black church in Hammond. The current church was completed in 1926. 

NOLA.com reported that the church has been shut down by the city since Saturday’s accident. 

Coyote sneaks into woman's bedroom, stuns sleeping homeowner

An Oklahoma woman said she woke up to a coyote in her bedroom around 4 a.m. Sunday.

>> Watch the news report here

According to KOKI-TV in Tulsa, the Bixby woman said, at first, she thought her cat and her dog were fighting, but when she turned the light on she saw a coyote.

>> Read more trending news 

She tried to get the coyote out with a golf club, and when that didn't work, she called Bixby police. Officers used two animal control hooks to get the animal out and released it back into the woods.

The homeowner said she thinks the coyote may have gotten inside through her back door that wasn’t dead-bolted and was hunting her cat. She believes the coyote came from the wooded area behind her house.

Both the homeowner and cat are uninjured and are safe.

Decomposing torso in missing man’s fish tank center of ongoing mystery

San Francisco police officers contacted by Brian Egg’s worried friends and neighbors weren’t sure what they would find when they finally gained access to his home -- but a headless human torso submerged in a fish tank was not likely on that list.  

Officers were able to get inside the missing 65-year-old’s home on Aug. 14, after neighbors called 911 to report a suspicious person -- and a truck from a crime scene cleaning service -- outside Egg’s home, San Francisco police officials said. The people there with the truck, including the man who hired the crew, were detained for questioning and officers went inside. 

“Officers did not locate Mr. Egg, but found evidence including cleaning products and suspicious odors in the residence,” officials said in a news release. “On Aug. 15, the (San Francisco Police Department) homicide detail took over the investigation and a search warrant was authorized for Mr. Egg’s residence. While searching the location, SFPD investigators found human remains inside a fish tank.”

The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office is still working on identifying the remains, as well as determining a cause and manner of death, police officials said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that decomposition was so advanced that even the body’s sex could not be determined. 

The body’s head and hands had been removed and cleaning products had been dumped into the tank with the torso, according to the Chronicle. The medical examiner is using DNA from Egg’s family to determine whether the body found in his home is his, the newspaper reported

>> Read more trending news

The saga of Brian Egg began in late July and early August, when police first heard from Egg’s family and neighbors, who were worried because they had not seen him in a while. Scott Free, a neighbor, told the Chronicle that he first became concerned in June, when he stopped seeing Egg walking his dog or watering his plants outside his home. 

His concern grew in July when two strangers began answering Egg’s door, claiming that they were house-sitting while Egg was on vacation, Free told the newspaper. That’s when he started calling police. 

Officers went to Egg’s Clara Street home twice, but got no response at the door and saw nothing suspicious that would warrant them forcing their way inside, the news release said

A missing person investigation began Aug. 7, when Egg’s sister reported him missing. A third trip to Egg’s home also produced no information on his whereabouts, officials said

“There wasn’t any evidence to the officers that appeared suspicious at the time that would lead them to take further action in this investigation,” Commander Greg McEachern, who heads the SFPD’s Investigations Bureau, said during a Tuesday news conference. “We don’t make entry into houses because someone has made a missing person report. People have a right to their privacy.”

Detectives who launched a more intensive investigation following the Aug. 15 discovery of the remains made two arrests: Robert McCaffrey, 52, of San Francisco, was arrested at Egg’s home. Lance Silva, 39, also of San Francisco, was picked up the following day at a motel. 

Officials said the pair was booked into the San Francisco County Jail on suspicion of murder, fraud, theft, identity theft and elder abuse. Both had the charges later dismissed pending further investigation by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, but Silva remains in custody at the Santa Rita Jail on a probation violation out of Alameda County, police officials said.

Free called the situation “horrifying” when he spoke to the Chronicle Monday outside Egg’s home. 

“The police department could have done a lot more in the early stages,” Free said. “It seemed like they weren’t taking it very seriously. There was a dead body in there all along and they were standing right next to it. What if we hadn’t said anything?”

Police officials at one point called Egg’s home and heard an answering machine message saying he was out of town, McEachern said Tuesday. Free and Egg’s brother, Devon Egg, who lives in Florida, both said that he did not have an answering machine.

Neighbors who knew him well also said Brian Egg was not one to travel, the Chronicle said. Though he was a bartender at a renowned San Francisco gay bar, the Stud, in the 1980s, he no longer had steady employment. 

“He was kind of fringe,” Free told the newspaper. “He had no job and lived on the margins. He was eccentric. A vacation seemed very implausible.” 

He was, however, a person who would occasionally take in drifters who needed a place to stay over the years, his neighbors told the newspaper. 

Investigators are asking for the public’s help in the case, specifically from individuals or businesses contacted by anyone claiming to be Brian Egg, or anyone who may have assisted with financial transactions related to Egg or his home at 228 Clara St. in San Francisco. 

Anyone with information on the case can contact the San Francisco police anonymously at 415-575-4444 or text-a-tip to TIP411 with SFPD at the start of the message.

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