Jennifer Ronca, the patient whom Drs. Bolognese and Milhorat (both of whom have unrelated New York medical malpractice cases pending against them) abandoned in North Shore University Hospital’s operating room, has come forward with her story of distress, betrayal and humiliation, the Daily News reports.
Last month, Ms. Ronca was scheduled for surgery with Dr. Bolognese to deal with an infection in one of her shunts. Operating room staff prepped Ms. Ronca for surgery, shaving her head and administering general anesthesia. Only after she was anesthetized did the staff realize that Dr. Bolognese was not in the building.
Frantic, the operating room staff asked Dr. Milhorat, then the chief of neurosurgery, if he would perform the surgery. He declined, explaining that Ms. Ronca was not his patient.
With no one to perform the surgery, Ms. Ronca was moved to a recovery room. When she awoke, a nurse explained that Dr. Bolognese had a family emergency and the surgery was not performed.
At first glance this seems like a regrettable, understandable mix-up. Even doctors have family emergencies, and if Dr. Milhorat truly was unfamiliar with the patient’s situation perhaps it was best that he declined to perform the surgery.
But now that Ms. Ronca has spoken about the incident, the original story has started to unravel. First, as Ms. Ronca told the News, Dr. Milhorat had more than a passing familiarity with her case:
“Dr. Milhorat operated on me twice before in 2008, and his office told me in
April it was he who decided that I should have the shunt put in on the same day
they were doing the traction. Since when am I not his patient?”
Second, reports of Dr. Bolognese’s family emergency may have been greatly exaggerated:
A little later, Ronca said she got a call from a hospital administrator who
told her, “There was no family emergency. We are investigating what happened. We will keep you in the loop.”
Both doctors have been suspended and the New York State Health Department is investigating the incident. Dr. Milhorat, 73, has resigned as chief of neurosurgery at the hospital.
Working with New York medical malpractice lawyers, what is most disturbing about this incident is how loosely both Dr. Milhorat and the hospital played with the truth. These are professionals and institutions that patients are asked to trust with their lives. The terrible way they handled this incident does not inspire much faith.