Florida Doctor Removes Woman's Kidney After Mistaking It for Tumor During Back Surgery

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Maureen Pacheco had checked in to Wellington Regional Medical Center to get the bones in her lower back fused but left without a kidney.

A Florida woman went to the hospital for back surgery and instead woke up with one less kidney after a doctor mistook the organ for a tumor and removed it in the operating room, a lawsuit filed by the woman said.

After suffering for years from back pain she incurred in a car accident, Maureen Pacheco checked in to Wellington Regional Medical Center in 2016 to get the bones in her lower back fused, a procedure officially known as an L5-S1 instrumented anterior lumbar interbody fusion. 

Shortly before being wheeled into surgery on April 29, 2016, Pacheco met Dr. Ramon Vazquez, who was assigned to assist in the surgery, officials said.

Vazquez was to cut open Pacheco, then 51, so her orthopedic surgeons could perform the back operation. 

During the surgery, Vazquez “noticed a pelvis mass and provided a presumptive diagnosis of a gynecologic malignancy, lymphoma, and/or other metastatic disease,” said an administrative complaint filed by the Florida Department of Health against the doctor.

So Vazquez clipped and removed it from Pacheco’s body, authorities said. 

But the pelvic mass he thought he noticed was in fact an intact pelvic kidney, a pathologist confirmed a month later. 

“Few medical errors are as vivid and terrifying as those that involve patients who have undergone surgery on the wrong body part,” according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Such incidents are termed “never events,” meaning they are “errors that should never occur and indicate serious underlying safety problems,” the AHRQ wrote. 

The AHRQ found that such errors occur in about 1 of every 112,000 surgical procedures, or “infrequent enough that an individual hospital would only experience one such error every 5–10 years.”

Pacheco filed a malpractice claim that was settled in September. 

Pelvic kidneys are renal organs that did not ascend to the normal abdomen region during fetal development. Two MRIs performed prior to Pacheco’s surgery showed she had a kidney in the pelvic region, according to the lawsuit.

The suit claimed that Vazquez failed to review the MRI. It also claimed he failed to get Pacheco’s consent to remove what he thought was a mass. 

“As you can imagine, when someone goes in for a back surgery, she would never expect to wake up and be told when she’s just waking up from anesthesia, that one of her kidney’s has been unnecessarily removed,” Pacheco’s attorney, Donald J. Ward, told The Palm Beach Post.

Vazquez’s attorney told the newspaper that Wellington Regional failed to inform him that the patient had a pelvic kidney, the Post wrote.

In a statement to InsideEdition.com, Vazquez's attorney said: "Dr. Vazquez settled this matter for a nominal amount due to the uncertainty of litigation and in no way did he admit liability by agreeing to this settlement."

A spokesperson at Wellington Regional Medical Center said in a statement to InsideEdition.com: "Dr. Vazquez is not and has never been an employee of Wellington Regional Medical Center. Dr. Vazquez was an independent physician with medical staff privileges at Wellington Regional as well as other hospitals in Palm Beach County.

"Dr. Vazquez is no longer on the medical staff of Wellington Regional. Wellington Regional took all necessary and appropriate steps to review the circumstances of this most unfortunate incident. In the over 30 year history of Wellington Regional Medical Center, an incident of this nature has never occurred before or since."