A prominent Fresno cardiac surgeon and Community Regional Medical Center are being sued by family members of a man who say the doctor left the operating room -- and the hospital -- before completing an open-heart procedure.
The patient, Silvino Perez, 72, has been in a vegetative state since the operation two years ago, according to the lawsuit filed by his wife, Maria A. Arteaga Alvarez, and stepson Cristobal Arteaga of Sanger.
The suit says Dr. Pervaiz Chaudhry left the operating room on April 2, 2012, before Perez was in stable condition after an operation to repair an ascending aortic aneurysm, in which the main artery leaving the heart balloons out and can rupture.
Perez's chest had not been properly closed, the lawsuit says. His heart stopped, he continued to bleed and lost oxygen, and he had to be put on life support, the suit says.
The complaint, filed Dec. 23, asks for unspecified damages.
Jeff Mitchell, a San Francisco malpractice lawyer who is representing the Arteagas, said the incident cited in the lawsuit is the same as one investigated by the state last year that resulted in a $75,000 fine against Community Regional.
Mary Lisa Russell, spokeswoman for Community Regional Medical Center, said in an email: "While we can't comment on any ongoing litigation, we have instituted improved safeguards with action plans that have been approved by the state. Community continually trains and searches for ways we can improve our patient care and safety."
Chaudhry is one of the busiest cardiac surgeons in California. According to a state report that looked at heart-bypass surgeries, he was one of the top five cardiac surgeons by number of surgeries performed in 2009-10.
Chaudhry did not return calls for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Cristobal Arteaga learned of Chaudhry's alleged absence in the operating room from an anonymous caller on Oct. 26, 2013. The state investigation, which did not name the doctor and patient, said investigators were tipped off by an anonymous caller on April 11, 2012.
The state investigation said the surgeon violated the hospitals rules and regulations, which forbid the primary surgeon from leaving the operating room before the patient is in stable condition. The physician's assistant was not qualified to be left in charge.
According to the state report, the physician's assistant was called back when the patient continued to bleed, reopened the chest and began manually massaging the heart. The cardiac surgeon was summoned back to the hospital and eventually, with the help of another surgeon, stopped the bleeding. The patient was placed on life support, the state said.
Perez never recovered, said Cristobal Arteaga, a railroad engineer.
Before the surgery, Perez "was the hardest-working man you'd ever meet," he said. He had been a field worker and for the past three years had been taking care of his wife, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair. Just days before the surgery, he was pruning trees in his yard.
"This is how he's spending his life now," Arteaga said at his stepfather's bedside in a northeast Fresno nursing home earlier this week. Since the surgery, Perez has been comatose, he said. He can breathe without the assistance of a ventilator but is tube fed.
Arteaga said he wants people to know what happened to his stepfather. Arteaga's wife, Sulema, said that Chaudhry and Community officials should have "had the decency to tell us what happened."
Mitchell said the Arteagas likely would not have sued if the doctor and hospital had been "forthright with these people from the outset."
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