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Surgeon Says It Was Too Late to Stop Amputation on Wrong Leg

September 15, 1995 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ By the time he discovered he was amputating the wrong leg of a diabetic, Dr. Rolando Sanchez was cutting through muscle, tendons and ligaments and had no choice but to continue.

``I tried to recover from that sinking feeling,″ Sanchez told a hearing examiner Thursday for the State Board of Medicine. His testimony during the final day of the three-day hearing was his first public comment on the botched operation.

Sanchez admitted removing Willie King’s left leg below the knee, instead of his right leg, during the operation last February at University Community Hospital. His license was temporarily suspended in July after he amputated a woman’s toe without her consent at a different hospital.

William F. Quattlebaum, hearing examiner for the Agency for Health Care Administration, will make a recommendation to the Board of Medicine on Sanchez’s future within 30 days. The board can dismiss the case, revoke Sanchez’s license, lift the suspension or order a fine, probation or community service.

Sanchez, 50, said he learned of the mistake during King’s operation after an operating room nurse checked some paperwork midway through the surgery.

``She was shaking her head, came back and was crying. Then I knew a mistake was made,″ said Sanchez, a surgeon in Florida since 1988.

Sanchez broke down as he testified about going to see King, 52, after the operation.

``I told him we had removed his left leg. I asked him how he was doing, how did it feel,″ Sanchez said. ``He said: `I thought we were going to do the right.‴

Sanchez said he told King: ``That’s right, but we did the left.″

King, whose right lower leg was later amputated at a different hospital, got a settlement of $900,000 from University Community Hospital and $250,000 from Sanchez.

Sanchez said both a blackboard with the day’s surgeries and a surgery report mistakenly listed removal of King’s lower left limb. The patient surgical consent form had correct information, but until the King case doctors were not required to check it.

In the case at Town & Country Hospital, Sanchez explained that Mildred Shuler’s toe had popped loose during surgery to remove dead tissue around it. Shuler, 69, was a diabetic who already had several other toes amputated and suffered from kidney failure and heart problems.

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``I knew there was no salvaging this toe,″ Sanchez said, adding that it was hanging on her right foot by rotted tissue and tendons. She since has had her right leg amputated below the knee by another doctor.

Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Blazicek, said the Board of Medicine should consider that other people made mistakes that contributed to Sanchez’s errors.

But Steve Rothenberg, attorney for the Agency for Health Care Administration, said that is not an excuse. In King’s case, he said, it was the surgeon’s responsibility to operate on the correct leg; in Shuler’s case, a patient must consent to an amputation.