Our names are Todd and Heather Steiger and we’re hoping to spread awareness about a dangerous, current practice, happening in hospitals across the nation. We live in Cincinnati, OH, are hard workers and the proud parents of three beautiful children. Today we’re doing the bravest thing we’ve ever done, and admittedly it’s scary. However, if my husband and I have learned anything after raising a profoundly, disabled and medically complex child the last 11 years, it’s that if we don’t share what we know, we can’t help others grow.
[I come alongside the Steigers to raise awareness and to hopefully prevent this from happening to others – possibly someone you love. Reposted with express permission].
We created this Facebook page to educate the public about an unethical practice happening in hospitals across the county, including The Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, MN, where our 11 year-old, severely disabled son became one of its victims. The practice is called “ghost surgery.”
If you don’t know what a ghost surgery is, you need to learn. We’d never heard of it until it happened to us. It’s an unethical, dangerous, unfortunate, quiet & hidden practice and the best way to avoid one is to know what they are so you don’t become a victim.
This post is long but our story is eye-opening, powerful, shocking but most importantly, key for patient safety and advocacy. We’re talking your safety and the safety of your family. After you’ve gained an understanding about the ins and outs of a ghost surgery, we’re hoping you will share this post to your loved ones so they too can better advocate for themselves and their family members.
To really stop this practice, it’s going to take a networked village.
What is a ghost surgery?
A ghost surgery occurs when a scheduled and agreed upon surgeon substitutes someone else to perform the operation, without knowledge, verbal or written consent, from the patient or the patient’s guardian. Instead, the name and/or title of the employee assigned to do the surgery is never given to the patient or guardian. Don’t stop reading here. You’re going to continue to be awakened.
There are a multitude of articles on the internet about ghost surgeries, yet the media has rarely, if ever, covered the issue (at least to my knowledge). Over the upcoming weeks, we hope to teach as many people as we can about what to ask, what to read and what papers to sign. (Note: this was evidently already happening in 1991).
We also want people to know what to do if specific things are not talked about and/or shown. We hope this Facebook page gets conversation and learning started so this practice will be forced to slow down, if not completely halted.
Most ghost surgery victims never learn another staff member operated on them.
You could already be a victim of one and not even know it.
Patients are put under general anesthesia prior to the surgeon entering the OR and typically the only employees in post-op are nurses. The whole thing is pretty easy to pull off if you think about it.
Statistically, the odds are on your side and nothing will go wrong during a ghost surgery. After a bit of observation in the recovery room, the patient is discharged, giving the patient no reason to examine and/or pursue their medical records after.
It’s because these unethical surgeries are usually successful that this practice continues (and actually has been, for decades). While the American College of Surgeons has deemed it unethical (and in my son’s case illegal due to no signed informed consent), nothing has yet to stop it. Our son’s surgery was far from successful. We’ll post a few pictures today showing the direct and indirect outcomes that spiraled out of control after our scheduled surgeon substituted a resident in his place, without close direct (if any supervision at all) during the operation. This resident had his medical license for only four months.
Why do hospitals perform ghost surgeries? It comes back to money. Multiple patients can be scheduled at the same time, on the same day, each patient feeling secure that they’ll be getting their hand-picked surgeon. The problem lies in that the surgeon can’t be in too many places at once. While there are guidelines which allow doctors in training to perform non-critical components of a surgery, such as suturing, etc., that’s not what I’m talking about here. Even in those cases the American College of Surgeons has outlined that the names of all surgeons interacting with ‘said’ patient should be disclosed (and consented upon) prior to surgery (unless in emergencies).
In our son’s case, the operative report and timestamps from the 11/20/19 surgery show the surgeon we hired because of his specialty with deep brain stimulator devices, never stepped foot in the operating room. This doctor, Dr. Lee, met with us the day prior to Jack’s surgery and passed himself off as the one who would be doing the surgery.
Research states ghost surgeries happen most often in training hospitals, where the Training Attending assigns residents or fellows to perform “less” important procedures/operations. However, the level of surgical difficulty doesn’t make a ghost surgery any less illegal if the patient hasn’t given written and verbal consent and it certainly doesn’t make it any less ethical.
In our son’s case, we flew 800 miles for Dr. Lee, a renowned neurosurgeon at The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Jack, our severely disabled son, suffered a stroke at 6 months old. When he was 4 and in need of a deep brain stimulator, we combed the country, looking for the best. We found Dr. Lee and trusted him with every bit of our being. Since Jack was 4, we’ve traveled back to Mayo nearly a dozen times, our trust as thick as trust can be.
Jack, now 11, was specifically booked with Dr. Lee (at our request) for two batteries to be replaced in his chest (called an IPG replacement surgery). During the pre-op, one day before surgery, Dr. Lee’s name was listed as the surgeon on the documentation we were given that day. We were also given a pamphlet when we left with Dr. Lee’s name on it, naming Lee as Jack’s only surgeon. During this visit, Dr. Lee personally boasted his low rate of infection per surgical site, verbally telling us it was less than 1%. In his clinic notes, he wrote around 1%. This percentage rate was a lie, as it’s not the national rate, nor the rate of a resident licensed for only 4 months.
Prior to us leaving that pre-op appointment (the day prior to surgery), Dr. Lee’s nurse asked us the strangest question. She told us Dr. Lee had two surgeries the next morning and because he needed two rooms next to one another, they didn’t have a surgery time yet. She wanted to make sure we were okay with that. I didn’t know at the time what she was trying to get us to understand. I assumed Dr. Lee always had more than one surgery in one day. We now believe she was trying to get us to ask further questions because she wasn’t allowed to tell the secret we know/think she was forced to keep.
We were not told the real risks of the surgery, never introduced to any other surgeon or resident and at no time were we offered to sign an informed consent (which is against federal law). We believe this was purposeful because the name of the surgeon is the first thing written on an informed consent form.
It was Dr. R. Naylor (the resident) who wrote and originally signed the OR report, which is how we began discovering one atrocity and broken law after another. Medical records also show there was no CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist) in the room or assigned with Jack during the surgery, only a GSA (a Graduate Student Anesthesiologist).
This too is illegal.
The OR report proves only two people were with our son during this surgery (outside of nurses) and both the GSA and a 1st year resident who’d had his medical license for only 4 months. *There was mention of the attending anesthesiologist present at induction and extubation, but not present during the surgery itself, only available. And remember, Dr. Lee’s presence is not documented at all.
Not only do the operative reports prove Dr. Lee was not a participant in this surgery, Jack’s clinical outcome prove it. If Dr. Lee, the distinguished surgeon had been there, critical parts of the surgery would have been carried out, especially the ones which wouldn’t have led him to nearly die.
When Jack awoke from surgery on 11/20/19, after being cut open twice by a first year resident not even supposed to be doing that type of surgery until his second year with guidance (based on Mayo’s own curriculum), it was clear something was very, very wrong with our son. Since then, seven months ago now, our life has been marked by utter hell, our son’s physical outcomes far worse than our mental ones. Seven months later and he still has surgeries ahead of him, direct results from the mistakes that were made.
We’ll share the details of Jack’s physical outcomes from the ghost surgery in our next post. It’s too much to read in one setting but you’ll hear some terms like… life flight…sepsis…staph infections (including one in his brain), this SMALL preview only a fraction.
We were given a 45 minute phone conversation with Dr. Amy Williams (Executive Dean of Practice at Mayo) this past Tuesday. She apologized for our experience and pledged to “look at how [they] can improve.” She also stated “a culture of safety is what we all strive for here at Mayo Clinic and it certainly doesn’t seem that we were able to reflect that appropriately in this case to you all, so that is a huge goal of ours and we will continue to move on that journey with these recommendations that you have put forward.”
While they “look at our recommendations,” which certainly better include adherence to the law, my husband and I don’t believe we can count on them to eliminate their current practice of ghost surgeries. It’s far too profitable. It’s a practice that’s been happening for decades and we’ve realized these last few days that the only way to ensure change is by educating the public, albeit scary to put ourselves and our children out there.
Finally, there’s one more reason that ghost surgeries aren’t publicized and commonly known.
Hush Money. Settlements are made, amounts & circumstances not disclosed, and the scandal never exposed. As they say, money talks!
We were willing to hop on that bandwagon ourselves at first too, simply to end the nightmare we’ve been living in. For seven months we’ve been our son’s lawyer, proved his defense, sifted through thousands of medical records and read hundreds upon hundreds of books, articles and protocol. We’re weak, tired and really just want this nightmare to end. I myself, deeply reflected on the choices we had moving forward following our conversation with the Mayo Clinic this past Tuesday.
Did my husband and I really want to accept “hush” money in the future, after a lawyer got involved, just to get a bigger settlement?
Would we feel okay being complicit, all the while knowing we would then be perpetuating the problem? That’s what most others have done in the past from what I’ve read and I don’t blame them. It seems so easy.
Don’t we deserve an easy way out too? We’re so, so tired. But could we sleep comfortably knowing someone at that very moment could be seriously injured or killed from a practice we knew about but turned a blind eye to?
After a lengthy and candid conversation, my husband and I decided we didn’t want to live with this hidden secret. We realized no amount of money would be worth withholding knowledge which could prevent life-threatening mistakes and save lives.
Victims of ghost surgeries have been waiting for someone, anyone, to be willing to publicly expose this practice.
Our son, a sweet and beautiful boy with the cognition of a 3 month old, can’t do much of anything. Everyday since his birth, we’ve looked to find his purpose in life. While we’ve found many over the years, I think we finally found the most important contribution he’ll ever make, one very few could ever make. He could be the catalyst which puts an end to ghost surgeries, or at least be the little boy who started the momentum to help slow them down.
And so, we created this facebook page to educate people about the current and unethical practice of ghost surgeries and we did this purposefully BEFORE signing a contract with a lawyer. We believe once under contract, we too would be put in a position of having to decide to stay quiet and get “xyz$$$” or only be given “x$” because we refused to sign a non-disclosure.
By coming forward now, this ethical dilemma is stripped from the equation, unable to tempt us. Inherently, we know it’s how it should be. We’re ethically doing the right thing by exposing what happened and is still happening. We’ll be able to sleep peacefully and move forward, knowing we didn’t turn a blind eye for an undisclosed amount of money.
We’ve started the process of obtaining legal counsel and while we haven’t signed a contract yet, Jack’s case is sitting on a very important desk right now. We gracefully ask that you don’t give us advice, although encouragement is appreciated. We created this page for your family and our son, not us. We’re well-read, knowledgeable and aware of our decisions and their implications.
Please know, we’ll never knowingly put something into writing against a person or hospital that can’t be proven in phone conversations and/or medical records. We’ll continue to follow laws surrounding our first amendment rights, copyright, libel and defamation, all the while, continue to share our story for the sake of prevention and helping others.
In our upcoming posts, we’ll explain how to make sure you’re getting the surgeon you think you are as well as how to check the surgeon’s medical license, which is how we discovered the surgeon who performed Jack’s surgery illegally had his medical license for only for 4 months.
The purpose of this post is to teach about Ghost Surgeries. Future posts will be about how to avoid them.
We are not lumping all doctors and hospitals together as participants of this unethical practice.
We can only research other examples on the internet and share our own personal and honest experiences, based on both hospital documentation, conversations with the hospital staff, and what happened before our eyes. While ghost surgeries are happening everyday, all over the country, they aren’t formally tracked (a problem in itself).
Therefore, it’s hard to say whether hundreds of them are happening a day or thousands.
Finally, please like and follow this page but most importantly, SHARE IT. Without your help, we’ll educate only a small few. You too can help raise awareness and end this unethical practice. You too can help our son’s purpose in life grow bigger and bigger by allowing Jack to be the reason someone’s life is saved or not ruined on that operating table.
Oh, how we wish he could understand how special he is.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” ~1 Timothy 6:10
Addendum: the original post stated the Steiger’s did not sign an informed consent, but the hospital provided an electronic copy on 7/3.
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