Families charge "unnecessary surgeries" in lawsuit

March 11, 2010 10:36:46 PM PST
Three families from our area are among 50 now suing North Shore Hospital and two of its prominent neurosurgeons. Leanne Vercher and her two daughters are still feeling debilitating effect of spinal surgery.

"They had vague back pain and now the pain is just indescribable," Vercher said.

Janet Holden says doctors used her 6 year old daughter, Natalie, as a human guinea pig, convincing her to undergo spinal surgery to lessen the pain of a brain defect.

"I don't know how they can sleep at night. They have changed my daughter's life forever," Holden said.

April Bryant's 4-year old daughter, Katie, developed a dangerous cyst after the surgery.

"It was the worst thing a parent can go through. Knowing that you made the wrong decision, that you took her to the wrong place, that you fell for a gimmick," Bryant said.

At the heart of it all are two of North Shore Hospital's star neuro-surgeons: Dr. Thomas Milhorat and his protégé Dr. Paulo Bolognese. They are accused of performing hundreds of unnecessary surgeries and raking in millions of dollars for themselves and the hospital.

Fifty people from all over the country are suing the prestigious Chiari Institute and the doctors for malpractice.

"You can take advantage of somebody whose desperate, who has a problem. You can say, 'You have a problem and we're the only ones that can treat this problem,'" attorney Lee Goldsmith said.

Lawyers for the families say the two doctors subjectively diagnosed patients and used spinal surgery to treat the brain defect.

"I feel they deceived me completely with the tethered cord surgery. It was unnecessary," Holden said.

Anthony Sola, who represents the hospitals, denies allegations of malpractice and insists the doctors were operating on patients diagnosed tethered cord syndrome.

"We readily admit there are certain neurosurgeons who say they wouldn't do this particular procedure on a particular patient, but our clients have the highest success rate. Much higher than these other doctors," Sola said.

Both surgeons were suspended last year after leaving a patient out cold on a table prepped for surgery. Dr. Milhorat, who earned an estimated 7 million dollars a year, stepped down from his position as chief.