An orthopedist in Florida caused “hundreds of devastating injuries” while his hospital ignored patient complaints for years after showing signs of a progressive neurological disorder, according to court documents.
Between 2016 and 2020, patients noticed that Dr. Richard David Heekin slurred his words and, according to court documents, had “difficulties with balance, poor concentration, outbursts of anger, erratic behavior, impaired gait and impaired judgment and mood.”
His alleged failures during surgeries included broken bones, torn tendons and severed nerves.
The resulting complications were significant, with many patients requiring revision surgery, and at least one complication resulted in the death of a patient, according to the civil suits.
The lawsuits name Heekin, his clinic and Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. as defendants. J. Brent Allen, the attorney for St. Vincent’s Riverside, declined to comment on the allegations, while Jep Barbour, an attorney for the Heekin and Heekin Clinic, did not immediately respond to calls and emails from NBC News. Attempts to reach Heekin were unsuccessful.
Heekin mainly performed knee and hip replacements — surgeries that were commonly performed Not are associated with a high rate of serious complications for patients, found a 2020 study published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.
So far, 350 lawsuits have been filed, with at least 100 more expected by the end of the year, Daniel Harwin, who represents the alleged victims, told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
“They had reasonable expectations that their lives would get better,” Harwin said of Heekin’s patients.
One of the most extreme complications mentioned in the court documents happened to Lucinda Bonk, 70, who died in September 2018 after a hip replacement that lasted longer than expected because Heekin allegedly fractured her femur, or thighbone, during the surgery.
After Heekin attempted to repair the severe fracture, Bonk’s vital signs began to decline, Harwin said; Her death certificate, viewed by NBC News, lists complications from a femoral fracture as the cause of death.
When Bonk first met Heekin, he hadn’t raised any red flags, said Anthony Bonk, her husband of 42. Speaking to NBC News, in his first public statements about his wife’s case, Anthony Bonk said Heekin didn’t have the friendliest bedside manner, but expressed confidence he could fix Bonk’s hip.
On the morning of her surgery, Bonk was optimistic, Anthony Bonk said.
“She just wanted me to hold her hand during and after the surgery,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t get that opportunity.”
“She just wanted me to hold her hand during and after the surgery. Needless to say, I didn’t get that opportunity.”
Anthony Bonk, husband of Lucinda Bonk
Instead, Anthony Bonk said he watched as staff desperately tried to revive his wife after her surgery.
“It still affects me today,” he added, his voice cracking. “You never get over it.”
Among the other alleged victims were patients whose surgery left them with a shorter leg because Heekin allegedly selected the wrong size femoral component needed for the hip replacement. Other patients had nerve damage so severe that it resulted in permanent “flat foot,” the documents say, which refers to difficulty lifting the front of the foot off the ground.
An unusual brain disorder
According to the court documents, Heekin had progressive supranuclear palsy, which the Mayo Clinic describes as an unusual brain disorder that causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movement, and later with swallowing. It worsens over time.
There were no details as to when or if hospital officials became aware that Heekin may have the condition.
Several doctors and nurses have expressed concern about Heekin’s ability to practice, the court documents said. They expressed their concern to senior staff at St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital, but the hospital “still forced at least one nurse who asked not to be in the room with him to continue the surgery with Heekin, even though she knew that.” it was a risk to patient safety,” the court filings say.
Ascension declined to comment through his attorney.
Heekin had performed thousands of successful surgeries prior to 2016, the court documents said. He ended his surgical career in 2020, when he retired of his own volition, Harwin said.
The first trial in the case, a consolidated lead trial for six plaintiffs, is scheduled for August 2023, Harwin said.
Anthony Bonk said he hopes his wife’s death will force medical facilities to review their practices.
“You trust them. That’s what they’re in business for,” he said.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-hospital-ignored-years-complaints-surgeon-patients-families-al-rcna40600 The Florida hospital ignored years of complaints about alleged surgeons, patients and families