10 Worst Medical Blunders of All Time

5 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

For most of us, checking in to a hospital means surrendering to the professional efficiency of legions of white-coated doctors and nurses. Fortunately, you can learn to overcome medical anxiety with a search online.

However, the people on the list below went into the hospital and, through some misfortune, were subjected to tragic medical errors that dramatically altered or ended their lives. Here are ten victims of the worst medical mishaps of all time.

Mary Cole

Mary Cole was only 66 years old when she died in a nursing home in Gastonia, North Carolina. She had been checked into Liberty Nursing and Rehabilitation Center due to her worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. One day, she wandered into a storage closet, and was accidentally locked in.

Although the staff at the center noticed she was missing at that evening’s bed check, it took them four days to find her. By that time, she had pneumonia, and was severely dehydrated. As soon as she was found, Cole was transported to a nearby hospital, but she died a half-hour after arriving.

With Baby Boomers just beginning to hit their 60s and 70s, the issue of nursing home malpractice has never been more important.

‘Doctor’ Arthur Copes

Most people in the community of Baton Rouge knew Arthur Copes as the successful owner and operator of Scoliosis Treatment Recovery System Clinic. He operated the clinic for years, and advertised his special treatment system throughout the entire state of Louisiana. He claimed to have invented a back brace that would help heal cases of scoliosis, and had sold them to many different people.

In 2006, Copes was charged with 117 separate counts of insurance fraud and practicing medicine without a license. One of the ways that he swindled people out of money was charging them up to $10,000 for the back braces while falsely guaranteeing that their insurance company would cover a portion of the cost. He was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution to several former clients, and was jailed for 3 years before beginning his 15 years of probation.

Nancy and Thomas Andrews

In 2007, Nancy Andrews took a vial of sperm from her husband Thomas to a Park Avenue fertility clinic in New York City in order to undergo in vitro fertilization. It was the only way that the couple could possibly conceive together, they’d been told.

The procedure was successful, and Nancy became pregnant. However, as soon as she gave birth, it became clear that the clinic had made a massive mistake. Their baby, Jessica, was born with distinctly darker skin than either of her parents, and carried features that are typically only found within the African-American population.

After doing several at-home DNA tests, it was revealed that Jessica was not biologically Thomas’s daughter. While the couple say that they love their daughter deeply, they filed a lawsuit for medical malpractice against the clinic who mixed up the sperm samples.

Jesica Santillán

Jesica Santillán emigrated from Mexico to the USA in 1999 in order to seek treatment for a rare heart and lung disorder. Her parents made huge sacrifices to get all three of them across the border, and they moved into a small trailer in North Carolina.

Her story caught the attention of a local handyman, who started a charity to raise money to get her a full heart and lung transplant. The transplant was scheduled at Duke Hospital, and appeared successful at the beginning. However, it became clear later that day that her body was rejecting the new organs.

Not one person out of more than a dozen doctors and nurses who handled her case file thought to look at her blood type. The organs came from a donor that was Type A, while Jesica’s blood was Type O. By the time her doctors realized their mistake, it was too late to reverse the damage, and Jesica died after a second attempt at the transplant failed.

Benjamin Houghton

In 2007, Benjamin Houghton went in for surgery to remove a potentially cancerous testicle- a procedure that doctors assured him was non-urgent and fairly routine. When Houghton awoke from sedation, he was shocked to be told that the surgery that was supposed to remove his left testicle had actually removed his right testicle.

There are three steps in the surgery process that were designed to catch mistakes like this- the consent form, the marking of the operation site, and a final double-check before the first incision. Houghton didn’t have his glasses on in the pre-surgery room, so failed to catch the mistake on the consent form. Then, the doctors failed to mark the operation site, and during the final double-check, doctors only consulted the consent form that contained the mistake. Houghton and his wife later sued the hospital for $200,000 in damages.

Willie King

In February 1995, Willie King went into the hospital to have his foot amputated. He was suffering from severe complications of diabetes, and both of his legs were in very poor shape.

That morning, a series of mistakes by hospital staff culminated in King’s doctor amputating the wrong foot. Both the surgeon and the hospital have paid huge fines, and the litigation lasted for years.

What it comes down to is for better or worse, King’s doctor honestly believed that he was taking off the correct limb. All the charts in the operating room and the operation paperwork carried the incorrect information, and because both of King’s legs were in such poor condition, the doctor didn’t think twice.

Kidney Patient at Methodist Hospital

In 2008, an anonymous patient checked in to Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park to have a cancerous kidney removed. What happened afterwards was a tragic medical error that could have been prevented at many different points. The doctor removed the non-cancerous kidney from the patient, and left the cancerous one intact.

This was only one of 24 separate wrong-site surgeries that happened in Minnesota that year alone.

Sherman Sizemore

Sherman Sizemore’s tragic operation-gone-wrong and subsequent suicide in 2007 brought more attention than ever before to the little-known phenomenon known as anesthesia awareness.

Sizemore went in for exploratory abdominal surgery, and although the staff gave him a paralytic to make sure that he remained still during the procedure, they forgot to then administer the anesthesia. Sizemore suffered excruciating pain during the surgery, and was unable to speak or move.

He committed suicide two weeks later, after being unable to sleep or eat, and feeling like he was being buried alive.

Dana Carvey

Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey was told in 2001 that the double bypass surgery that he thought was successful was not only a failure, but that it was because his operating doctor bypassed the wrong artery.

Carvey spent an agonizing 6 months not knowing whether or not he would have to undergo the surgery again to correct the mistake.

He later sued the surgeon and the hospital, since he was out about $7 million dollars between the cost of the surgery and lost revenue during the time he was recovering.

Don Church

Don Church, a pest-control technician from Seattle, is one of five separate people who were involved in a lawsuit against the University of Washington Medical Centre after they had instruments left inside them during surgery.

Church went in for surgery to remove a 13-pound cancerous tumor, and was told after he woke up that the surgery was successful. Once he began complaining of pain that was so severe that he couldn’t bend over, he was given an x-ray that revealed that there had been a 13-in metal retractor left inside him during the surgery.

Church was paid a settlement of over $100,000 by the hospital, but elected to have the tool removed elsewhere.

Jordana Weiss