Five patients of Dr. Tzay Chiu at Cataract & Laser Center West in West Springfield, Massachusetts were left blinded following cataract surgery on the same day. The injuries have confounded cataract surgeons, who say that even one serious injury is rare. According to the surgery center’s investigative reports, Dr. Chiu — the anesthesiologist on each of the cases — possibly pierced the patients’ eyeballs with his needles. Dr. Chiu’s attorney has not provided comment.
Five surgeries took place that morning, four within a 30-minute period. More than one patient was heard screaming as the numbing needle was administered. On the following day, four patients discovered they could not see from the eye on which the doctor operated. The fifth patient has a crescent-shaped blind spot that greatly restricts his sight. Two of the patients have filed lawsuits, and all five have hired attorneys.
Dr. Chiu was working his first day at Cataract & Laser Center West on that morning in May 2014. He was placed at the center by anesthesiologist broker D&G Associates, which had a contract with Cataract & Laser Center West. This practice is not uncommon. The United States has roughly 5,500 independent outpatient surgery centers (Massachusetts has 60). These centers frequently contract with companies to provide anesthesiologists.
There is speculation that Dr. Chiu was not properly screened. New or substitute anesthesiologists must be properly trained to keep up with the rapid stream of cataract patients at an outpatient surgery center. The anesthesiology group and surgery center must work closely and communicate effectively with each other to ensure patients’ safety. Cataract removal is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States. Thus, well-trained anesthesiologists are crucial. Experts recommend observing 10 surgeries before a new anesthesiologist is allowed to work without supervision. In response to Dr. Chiu’s injuries, one Massachusetts surgery center increased its number of required observations to 12.
The Cataract & Laser Center wrote in a report to the Department of Public Health that it thoroughly reviewed Chiu’s education, experience, and training regarding administering anesthesia for eye surgery. They also reviewed multiple reference letters from colleagues and found no red flags. The report further indicated that the anesthesiologist who was usually on duty at the center observed Dr. Chiu in several cases and found him to be competent. This doctor, however, refuted this assertion in a recent deposition. Specifically, he said he was in another room prepping while Dr. Chiu administered anesthesia.
Dr. Chiu was using a type of anesthesia called “eye block.” Specifically, he would inject a numbing agent into the muscles around the eyeball to immobilize the eye. The surgery center indicated in its report that Chiu had performed hundreds of eye blocks, but it also suggested that that D&G failed to sufficiently verify his experience. These cases raise a larger question about relying on eye blocks for cataract surgery. Physicians in other states often use less invasive numbing drops. Chiu has reached an agreement with the the board that licenses Massachusetts doctors not to perform eye blocks while the board investigates the patients’ injuries. However, he is still permitted to practice.
A lawyer of one of the injured patients said that a patient blinded following cataract surgery always raises concerns, but five in one day at the same center is “really shocking.”
If you have been harmed by the negligence of a health care provider during a procedure, you may need the assistance of a surgical error lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts medical malpractice attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to accident victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.
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