Baltimore Orioles minor-league outfielder Nolan Reimold filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging negligent medical care at Johns Hopkins Hospital, claiming he was cleared to resume play too quickly after spinal surgery, causing additional damage.
Reimold, 31, was diagnosed with a herniated disk during the 2012 season and had surgery that June. The suit alleges that a Hopkins neurosurgeon told him he could return to play before his neck bones had fused.
"I had no idea that every game I played caused me further injury because my bones weren't fused," said Reimold in a statement from the law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which is representing him.
The suit was filed in the state's Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, which hears medical malpractice claims. It names Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Dr. Ziya Gokaslan, who performed the surgery.
"We are limited in what we can say due to privacy and the fact that the case is currently being litigated," Hopkins officials said in a statement. "We believe that Johns Hopkins met the standards of care for this particular surgery."
Gokaslan came to Hopkins in 2002 and is director of its Neurosurgical Spine Center and the vice-chairman of neurosurgery in the Hopkins School of Medicine. He declined to comment through Hopkins.
Gokaslan is slated to become chair of neurosurgery in the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and chief of neurosurgery at Rhode Island Hospital and the Miriam Hospital on July 1, according to a March news release from Brown.
In his suit, Reimold said he tripped and fell on his shoulder in April 2012 while playing for the Orioles. When stiffness, pain and muscle tightening around his neck didn't improve with non-surgical treatment by June, he saw Gokaslan, who diagnosed a C5-C6 disk herniation, a common neck injury.
Reimold had surgery about a week after seeing the doctor, which included a bone graft to replace the disk. He returned several times to see Gokaslan, who cleared him to return to baseball about seven months later, in January 2013.
In the suit, Reimold alleges that Gokaslan "negligently misinterpreted the film and/or failed to consider the official radiology report" because the X-ray showed the bone had not yet fused.
Reimold returned to training and gradually experienced pain, numbness and tingling from his neck to his hands, and new X-rays taken at a facility in Florida showed the bone had not fused, according to the suit. He had "revision surgery" on July 22, 2013.
The outfielder appeared in 40 games with the Orioles in 2013, hitting just .195 in 140 plate appearances, before missing the rest of the season.
Through a spokesperson, the Orioles declined to comment on the lawsuit.
A C5-C6 disk herniation is not uncommon among athletes, and people in general, according to Dr. Paul Asdourian, regional director for the spine program at MedStar North, which includes Union Memorial's sports medicine program and three other hospitals.
Asdourian, who did not treat Reimold, said a herniation starts with natural degeneration of a disk in people over age 20 or 30, and then a trauma such as a fall will cause the disk to swell or even rupture. Normal disks don't herniate, he said.
Most patients recover in a few months, with physical therapy and medications, Asdourian said. Those with persistent pain need may need surgery, which can include a bone graft from the patient or a cadaver, though the latest technique uses a cage filled with different materials placed between bones.
About 90 to 95 percent of grafts heal in as little as three months. Asdourian said it's not always clear from X-rays in the small number of patients whose bones don't fuse, and patients without symptoms are generally cleared to gradually return to their jobs or sports activities.
"It's not an uncommon scenario for X-rays to show what you think is a fusion and then over time the X-rays show it isn't fused," Asdourian said. "The worst thing that happens is they have recurrent symptoms and then an additional surgery. … You can be fooled by X-rays."
Reimold's suit does not specify monetary damages. His attorney, Hassan Murphy, said the financial impact on the professional ballplayer has yet to be determined.
"Nolan's injuries and subsequent absence from the game were entirely avoidable," Murphy said.
"He missed valuable time when he could have been playing at the highest level."
Reimold was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, and rejoined the Orioles this season. He batted .340 this spring but has started the season with the team's Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Va.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.