Hundreds of Suits Blame Injuries on Impaired Surgeon

Patients say Florida hospital ignored their complaints
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2022 12:30 PM CDT
Lawsuits: Doctor Inflicted Injuries During Surgery
   (Getty Images//nimon_t)

(Newser) – Lucinda Bonk went into surgery in September 2018 optimistic about receiving a new hip. But the procedure took longer than expected; Dr. Richard David Heekin had somehow severely fractured Bonk's thigh bone during the operation, a lawsuit says. He tried to repair it while in surgery, but the 70-year-old Florida woman's vital signs began to decline, and her husband watched hospital staff members try and fail to resuscitate her. Bonk's death certificate cites complications of a femur fracture as the cause of death, NBC News reports. Her case is one of more than 350 detailed in lawsuits filed against Heekin and St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital in Jacksonville.

Court documents say the orthopedic surgeon caused "hundreds of devastating injuries" to his patients, causing bone fractures, ruptured tendons, and severed nerves. Patients reported noticing Heekin's slurred speech and "difficulty with balance, inability to concentrate, angry outbursts, erratic behavior, gait disturbances and impaired judgment and mood," from 2016 to 2020. Patients were left after surgery with one leg shorter than the other because Heekin picked the wrong size femoral component for hip replacement, the filings say. Others had severe nerve damage that left them struggling to lift the front part of a foot off the ground. The patients said the hospital ignored their complaints.

Heekin had progressive supranuclear palsy, the filing says, which the Mayo Clinic defines as an uncommon and progressive brain disorder that affects walking, balance, and eye movements, per NBC. He retired on his own in 2020. Attorneys for Heekin and the hospital declined to comment on the case, including on when St. Vincent's Riverside became aware of his condition. Before 2016, court documents say, Heekin performed thousands of successful operations. Bonk's husband, Anthony, hopes the case leads medical providers to review their procedures. "You trust them," he said. "That's what they're in business for." (Read more orthopaedic surgery stories.)

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