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Gallbladder surgery leads to liver disease, death of patient

February 3, 2014 | 2 min read

Misplaced staples from a gallbladder removal surgery led to a woman developing liver disease, according to a medical malpractice lawsuit the woman filed before her death.

Karla McLaren had her gallbladder removed in December 2010, and within months, her health deteriorated, the Rapid City Journal reported. Her liver had stopped working properly and she became severely jaundiced, the source said. Doctors found surgical staples had been put in the wrong spot inside of her during the gallbladder surgery, causing a blockage in the flow of bile from her liver to her digestive system, the lawsuit stated. The staples were discovered on her right and left hepatic ducts, but were supposed to be placed on the cystic duct.

Rapid City, S.D., surgeon Wesley Sufficool, who was named in the medical malpractice lawsuit, denied placing the surgical staples in the wrong spot, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Staples lead to liver disease
McLaren had the staples removed in 2011 and doctors told her she had developed end-stage liver disease. She was put on a liver transplant list, the source said. About a year and a half later, she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, and moved to a nursing home because of her poor health. She died in August of 2013 at the age of 55. An autopsy could not identify if the liver disease or the ALS caused her death, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Malpractice trial
Don McLaren, Karla’s husband, continued to pursue the medical malpractice lawsuit after his wife’s death. The case went to a jury trial, and recently, a jury awarded him $776,000 in damages, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Typical risks associated with gallbladder surgery
Gallbladder removal surgery is called a cholecystectomy and is performed typically one of two ways – through an open method where a 2- to 3-inch incision is made in the upper right side of the abdomen or through the laparoscopic method, where multiple smaller incisions are made and thin tubes with video cameras are used. Gallstones, having an inflamed or infected gallbladder and the presence of cancer in the organ are reasons people have this surgery, according to Johns Hopkins.

Common risks associated with the procedure include bleeding, infection and injury to the bile duct, as McLaren experienced, according to Johns Hopkins. The bile duct is the tube that carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine.