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Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Weis: Doctors missed complications after surgery

Associated Press

BOSTON -- The lawyer for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said Tuesday that doctors failed to recognize life-threatening complications after Weis' gastric bypass surgery, allowing him to bleed internally for more than a day.

Weis' lawyer, Michael Mone, made his comments at the start of the coach's malpractice trial.

Weis had the surgery in June 2002 while he was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots after battling obesity for years. He weighed about 350 pounds at the time.

Weis alleges in the lawsuit that Massachusetts General Hospital physicians Charles Ferguson and Richard Hodin acted negligently and left Weis so close to death that he received the Roman Catholic sacrament of last rites. He was in a coma for two weeks.

The doctors maintain they did nothing wrong.

Weis reported complications, including difficulty breathing, in the early morning a day after his surgery, Mone said in an opening statement in Suffolk Superior Court. The following day, doctors performed another surgery to fix problems caused by the initial procedure.

"For more than 30 hours, Mr. Weis continued to bleed," Mone said.

William J. Dailey Jr., an attorney for the doctors, told jurors the doctors acted appropriately and that Weis was believed to be in good condition the morning of the second procedure.

"There was no carelessness," Dailey said. "Unfortunately, Mr. Weis experienced one of the complications that is known to exist."

Ferguson performed the surgery and then left for the weekend. Hodin was charged with caring for Ferguson's patients while the doctor was gone and performed the follow-up surgery.

Weis, who is seeking unspecified damages, could testify Wednesday. He and his wife, Maura, sat in the front row during testimony Tuesday. Mone said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who visited Weis in the hospital, could also testify this week.

In a gastric bypass, an egg-sized pouch in the upper stomach is created by stapling it off from the rest of the organ and then connected to the small intestine. The most dangerous complication is leakage from any of the connections. In Weis' case, the connection between the pouch and the small intestine leaked.

Mone claimed Hodin failed to conduct a diagnostic test in which the patient swallows a solution that radiologists track to find leaks. He said that by Saturday morning, Weis was showing "classic signs" of internal bleeding.

"He should have intervened at that point," Mone said. "He chose not to operate. It was not going to correct itself."

But Dailey said a CT scan of Weis on Saturday showed no evidence of a leak. He said doctors were concerned that Weis' breathing problems may have been a pulmonary embolism, in which an artery in the lung becomes blocked. The scan also ruled that out, however.

"There was no evidence that this leak was present on Saturday at all," Dailey said.

Weis removed his own breathing tube at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dailey pointed out.

Jennifer Wilson, an intensive care nurse who was assigned to care for Weis, testified she eventually became concerned there was internal bleeding. She consulted with a different doctor Sunday to order the "barium swallow" test, which occurred at 3 p.m. that day. A leak was detected, and surgery was conducted two hours later.

"He spent days at death's door," Mone said of Weis' condition after the second surgery.

Five years later, Weis still suffers nerve damage in his legs as a result, Mone said.

Weis became interested in the surgery after learning that Al Roker, weatherman of NBC's "Today" show, had gastric bypass surgery in 2002. The American Society for Bariatric Surgery estimates more than 177,000 Americans had weight-loss surgery in 2006, up from 47,000 in 2001.

Five to 10 percent of patients suffer major complications, Dailey said, and about one in 200 dies.