Every year, about 700,000 people in the United States have their gallbladders removed surgically. Most undergo the minimally invasive procedure known as laparoscopic cholycystectomy (lap-choly). Small incisions are made and a camera is inserted. Small surgical tools are used in performing the surgery, grasping the gallbladder with the operating tools and dissecting towards a tube called the cystic duct. Once identified, the cystic duct is clipped with small surgical clips and the gallbladder is removed.
Bile produced in the liver and then then concentrated in the gallbladder, aids in the digestion of fatty foods. Bile travels through tube like structures called ducts in order to reach the gallbladder. The ducts that leave the liver meet and form the common bile duct (CBD) and the cystic duct connects the CBD with the gallbladder. If the ducts leaving the liver or the CBD are injured, the results can be catastrophic. These injuries are preventable, and patient safety requires that the avoidance of a bile duct injury be the surgeon’s primary goal. There have been studies that show that the misidentification of ductal structures by the surgeon is the most common reason for these types of injuries.
It is a very important rule that surgeons never clip or cut a structure unless s/he is certain what the structure is. Unfortunately, common bile ducts are frequently misidentified as cystic ducts. Should it become difficult for a surgeon to correctly identify ductal structures, it is easy for the procedure to be converted into an open one. The laparoscopic instruments simply need to be removed and a larger incision made. The inconvenience of having a larger scar and a longer recovery time is nothing compared to the adverse effects of a bile duct injury. Patients should also be aware that while converting to an open surgery may be a good option in these cases, surgeons can still cut or damage structures.
Another problem that occurs is that most injuries are not recognized when the surgery is taking place, delaying repair. Errors can result in organ perforation, resulting in dangerous infections. Medical setbacks and wrongful death can also result. If the CBD is accidentally cut, bile can leak in the patient’s abdomen, poisoning the patient.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a negligent gall bladder surgery, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to evaluate your case.
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