Originally created 04/27/01

Judge says U.S. was negligent in man's postoperative care



U.S. District Chief Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. ruled Thursday that the United States was negligent for the postoperative care of an Augusta man who underwent surgery to repair an aneurysm in January 1997.

Judge Bowen said the federal government was negligent when it decided to release Henry Lewis Vinson on Feb. 1, 1997, despite signs of a possible internal injury. He did not, however, find the government negligent in preoperative care or the actual injury - a severed ureter - inflicted during surgery.

"The ureteral injury is a predictable and known risk (of this surgery)," Judge Bowen told attorneys.

Mr. Vinson was admitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Augusta on Jan. 23, 1997, for surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm, commonly referred to as "AAA" surgery. A week after his release he was rehospitalized in severe pain, and it was then that doctors found the severed ureter, which takes urine from the kidney to the bladder. The ureter had emptied nearly two liters of urine into Mr. Vinson's abdomen.

Before delivering his findings, the judge told attorneys he was pleased with the testimony given by both sides in the case.

"I am quite content that the medical testimony that I have heard in court and received in depositions is about as good as I can get," he said.

He continued to say, however, that the "troublesome" part of this case was the care Mr. Vinson received after surgery and before he was discharged.

Judge Bowen said that from testimony and records it was obvious that several days after surgery Mr. Vinson had some problems that seemed to indicate "a continued progress toward abnormality." He said that, according to medical records, nurses noted Mr. Vinson's "worsening mental status" the day before he was discharged.

The judge said Mr. Vinson's infection and cut ureter could have been found prior to his discharge had the attending physician checked back on his condition. Mr. Vinson was mostly seen by residents, interns and nurses after Jan. 26.

Attorneys for both sides will have until noon Monday to submit briefs on Mr. Vinson's right to seek damages for services rendered by a family member or good Samaritan. Judge Bowen is expected to rule on the damages later next week.

Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109.