Medtronic, hospital sued over facial surgery

Kelly Holleran Jun. 10, 2011, 6:37am

Collignon Gunn

A Brooklyn man claims he lost the ability to blink his right eye after a doctor struck a facial nerve in a complicated surgery.

Ralph Wellmaker filed a lawsuit May 23 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Touchette Regional Hospital, Dr. Lloyd Thompson and Medtronic.

Wellmaker claims he visited Touchette on July 14, 2009, for Thompson to perform a complicated facial surgery called a parodectomy.

Thompson recommended Wellmaker undergo the procedure after discovering a right parotid tumor that was increasing in size, according to the complaint. Such a tumor is located in the salivary glands in the face, the suit states. Doctors consider the surgery difficult because a nerve that controls facial movements runs through the salivary gland.

To aid in detecting where the facial nerve lay, Thompson utilized an NIM nerve monitoring system manufactured by Medtronic that is supposed to monitor nerve function to reduce the risk of nerve damage, the complaint says.

However, during the surgery, the NIM nerve monitoring system failed to properly function and Thompson could not find the facial nerve, according to the complaint. As a result, he sliced through the nerve, the suit states.

Because of the surgery, Wellmaker endured facial nerve paralysis, suffers from being unable to blink his right eyelid and had to undergo facial nerve repair, the complaint says. In addition, he claims he suffered severe discomfort, mental anguish, permanent disfigurement and emotional anguish and lost his ability to function and enjoy his normal life activities. He also incurred medical costs, according to the complaint.

Wellmaker blames Thompson and the doctor's employer, Touchette Regional Hospital, for causing his injuries, saying they negligently failed to warn him of the risks of surgery, failed to identify the facial nerve before cutting it in surgery, failed to use an instrument in a safe and effective manner and cut Wellmaker's facial nerve.

In addition, Touchette Regional Hospital negligently failed to maintain its equipment, failed to test its equipment and failed to properly train its employees, the suit states.

Wellmaker names Medtronic as a defendant, saying its system negligently failed to identify his facial nerve, failed to include adequate instructions, failed to contain adequate fail safes, failed to have back-up power and failed to warn of its potential for inadequately identifying nerves.

In his six-count suit, Wellmaker seeks a judgment of more than $300,000, plus costs.

Amy Collington Gunn and Anne Marie Brockland of The Simon Law Firm in St. Louis will be representing him.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-323.

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