$280G award took guts: Docs left surgical tool in woman’s abdomen

January 13, 2006
By Laurel J. Sweet
Boston Herald

A Belmont woman living as a man was awarded $280,000 yesterday by a jury that found two doctors negligent for leaving a nearly foot-long surgical instrument in her abdomen while wrapping up a hernia operation at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

“I was pretty mortified,” Alex Mitchell, 38, told the Herald of the Adept-Med FISH, a metal-spined device resembling a blue flounder that swam around in her torso for four months.

The FISH shields organs during suturing, but is supposed to be pulled out at the last minute. When it showed up on an X-ray, after Mitchell’s pain and vomiting had been written off as gallstones and ovarian cysts, the FISH had floated more than a foot from her incision.

“The first time I went to the emergency room, I thought I was having a heart attack,” she said.

Mitchell’s attorney, William J. Thompson of Lubin & Meyer, apparently hit a squeamish nerve when he reminded jurors, “This could happen to any one of us. ”

Thompson later called the judgment “fair compensation for what Alex Mitchell has been through. This is the system working. ”

Mitchell, a transgender shift supervisor for CVS, ran into health problems after having her stomach stapled in 1999. Just 5 feet, 2 inches tall, her weight has since plummeted to 170 from 310 pounds.

The Suffolk Superior Court panel deliberated only briefly before finding that Dr. Kathaleen Porter and Dr. Aqueel Siddiqui erred in not accounting for the FISH’s whereabouts after the Jan. 12, 2001, operation.

But because Siddiqui, now a vascular surgeon, was only a third-year surgical resident at the time, the jury put it on Porter, the attending surgeon, to foot the bill for Mitchell’s compensation.

“We didn’t have to be here today,” Mitchell said. “I’m not looking for them to lose their licenses. But, they have never taken responsibility for what they did wrong. ”

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