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Air Force Admits Botched Surgery

DefenseArmed ForcesFamilyJustice System

The family of a Beale Air Force Base airman whose legs were amputated says Air Force Officials told him that mistakes were made. Colton Read went into the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield to get his gallbladder removed. The laparoscopic procedure using narrow probes and mini-video cameras has become a routine, relatively common type of surgery.

But the initial probe nicked his aorta artery causing massive bleeding. When limbs are deprived of blood, the tissue dies quickly. Amputation prevents the spread of infection and toxic materials released from the death of tissue. Medical malpractice attorney Michael Meade, who represented a patient who lost leg resulting from a damaged artery during surgery, says problems with gallbladder laparoscopy is rare. Only two percent of such surgeries encounter complications.

But Meade said they are directly related to the experience of the surgeons performing them. He said once an artery is penetrated, a vascular surgeon is needed right away to deal with the damage. Read wasn't transferred to Sacramento's U.C. Med Center to see a vascular surgeon until nearly nine hours after the accident.

Jessica Read, Colton's wife, says his husband was visited by Air Force officials who reassured him that he could continue his career in the Air Force. That was one of the biggest concerns of the family.

Both Jessica and Colton's mother, Shelly Miller, say they understand that mistakes can be made but they don't understand why it took so long to prevent damage to the airman's legs. They want some accountability for the decision to delay his transfer to a hospital that had the help he needed.

A federal supreme court ruling prevents active military personnel from suing military medical personnel or the federal government for medical malpractice. The family is supporting Congressman Maurice Hinchey's legislative efforts to change that policy. His bill goes to the House Judiciary Committee next week and would be retroactively applied so the Read would be able to sue.

The Travis hospital says an investigation is being conducted using outside consultants to determine what happened during Read's procedure.

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