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Bariatric Surgery/Gastric Bypass

Obesity is defined as a bodyweight that is 20 percent or more above a person’s ideal weight. Obesity becomes “morbid obesity” when it significantly increases the risk of one or more obesity-related health conditions or serious disease. Morbid obesity is also defined as being 100 pounds or more over one’s ideal bodyweight or having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. It is estimated that over one third of Americans are overweight or obese, and 5-10 million of those are morbidly obese.

Bariatric surgery is surgery on the stomach and/or intestines to help a person lose weight. Common procedures include gastric bypass and gastric banding, with the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass being the most common.

Mistakes during and after these procedures can result in serious injury or death. Common medical errors fall into two categories. The first are errors that occur during the surgery itself, such as anesthesia errors or surgeon’s mistakes. The second, and more common, are errors that occur after surgery. For example, gastric bypass involves cutting and stitching the digestive tract. Sometimes surgeons do not adequately assure that the stomach and/or intestines are closed and reattached properly, resulting in “leaks” into the patient’s abdomen. This situation can lead to serious and life-threatening infections if not diagnosed and treated immediately. Another common post-surgery negligence issue is when a bariatric surgery patient develops an intestinal blockage following surgery. This can lead to serious gastric complications or a condition known as “aspiration” (when stomach contents end up in the lungs), both of which can kill a patient if not prevented or treated immediately.

An example of a bariatric surgery case handled by the lawyers at Kelley/Uustal is the case of a lady who experienced an intestinal blockage following a gastric bypass procedure (a recognized and correctable complication). Because she had a blockage, everything she swallowed was accumulating in her stomach and small bowel, and not moving through the digestive tract. The simple solution to this is to insert an “NG” tube (a naso-gastric tube that goes in the nose and down to the stomach to safely drain the stomach contents). She never got this, and days later, during a second operation to remove the obstruction, she vomited several liters of acidy fluid into her lungs. She died from the aspiration. We secured a $1.5 million recovery from the surgeon, hospital, and anesthesiologist involved in the case.