For 15 years, Steven Hanes had suffered chronic pain in his right testicle and was hopeful that surgery would end the agony. However, it was a procedure that went gravely wrong for he now faces the likelihood of a lifetime of testosterone treatment while losing his healthy testicle.

Four years after the 2013 incident, which was the first medical malpractice verdict in Pennsylvania in at least 25 years, the jury comprising 11 women and one man, awarded Hanes USD $870,000, including USD $250,000 in punitive damages, according to his attorney, Braden Lepisto.

“The verdict shows that even in counties where there are limited options for medical care, appropriate and competent care still is demanded by the community,” said Lepisto.

“This case, I understand why it kind of went viral just because of what is involved, but the reality is, it's a condition that has affected my client significantly.”

“Although some people may see it as kind of laughing matter initially, the award was completely justified based on the evidence and the toll that it's taken on Steve.”

He said that “to this day, it's still not totally clear” how the mistake occurred in the operating room.

Victim has testicle about half the size of its counterpart

The Mount Union patient had suffered from persistent pain in his right testicle due to its unusually small size compared to the other one. Upon consulting Dr Valley Spencer Long, he was advised to undergo an operation to remove the damaged testicle as an ultrasound showed that the testicle had atrophied, with scarring and damage from a previous injury. However, the 77-year-old urologist, who performed the orchiectomy at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital in Huntington, had removed the wrong one, instead.

In a postoperative report, Long had written, “At this point it appeared that the left testicle and cord may actually have been removed instead of the right one.”

The negligence prompted Hanes to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against Long and the hospital in 2014.

Hanes had also found out later that the surgery was not extremely necessary, as there were apparently less invasive treatments.

Haines’ lawyer said his client remains in pain, but has a “debilitating fear” of seeking further treatment for his problem and will need long-term hormonal treatment.

“He really is just extremely fearful of trying to get any sort of treatment for it at this point because of what happened,” Lepisto said.

The jury found Long to be “recklessly indifferent” and felt the surgeon could have taken steps to confirm he was operating on the correct testicle.

“The doctor gave an explanation that really made no anatomical or medical sense,” Lepisto said. “He claimed that he removed the testicle that was on the right side of the scrotum and the testicle had a spermatic cord that led to the left side of the body.”

Essentially, he added, the doctor claimed that the testicles had switched sides at some point.

“If he had just tracked that spermatic cord up into the body, which would have told him which side he was on. It's just extremely unlikely because there are structures in the body that prevent the testicles from moving freely from one side to the other. There was just no evidence that those structures had been compromised,” he added.

According to a spokeswoman for J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, Long has ceased working for the hospital. The hospital declined to comment further.

Surgeries on the wrong body parts are extremely rare

Such horrifying mistakes which involved wrong-site surgery occurred in only about 1 in 112,994 cases – according to a 2006 study of nearly three million operations over nearly two decades, supported by the public Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Nevertheless, there were unfortunate patients who fell victims to doctors’ negligence. Past cases involved doctors in Minneapolis who removed a healthy kidney from a man with kidney cancer, and an ophthalmologist who operated on the wrong eye of a 4-year-old boy in Portland.

This has led to a number of measures to prevent such unwarranted mistakes. The non-profit Joint Commission Centre for Transforming Healthcare has recommended, in a 2011 report, marking the incision sites with something consistent (like the surgeon's initials) before the operation to reducing noise and other possible distractions in the operating room.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “few medical errors are as vivid and terrifying as those that involve patients who have undergone surgery on the wrong body part, undergone the incorrect procedure, or had a procedure intended for another patient.

“In the medical community, “wrong-site, wrong-procedure, wrong-patient errors” are known as WSPEs, and they are so egregious and usually preventable that the federal health department deems them “never events” — “errors that should never occur and indicate serious underlying safety problems.” MIMS

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