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When Your Kidneys Go Missing

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Removal of a healthy kidney can leave a patient without a functioning kidney. This wrong-site surgery can have serious, even fatal consequences for a patient. When physicians remove the wrong kidney, they may leave a diseased or cancerous organ in place. Without at least one properly functioning kidney, the patient can be reliant on dialysis and transplant for survival.

Surgical Removal of Kidneys

There are several different methods for removing kidneys. These include simple nephrectomy which removes the entire kidney. This procedure involves a 12-inch incision on the patient’s side through which the physician removes the kidney and vessels attached to the bladder. Physicians can also perform a partial nephrectomy during which they remove a part of, but not the entire kidney.

Increasingly, physicians are performing kidney removals via laparoscopic surgery. This requires making a series of keyhole incisions in the patient’s side. The surgeon then inserts a camera into the body cavity through one incision and utilizes small instruments to remove the kidney via the other incisions.

Risks of Kidney Surgery

Kidney surgery comes with significant risks. These include loss of blood, stroke, heart attack, and allergic reactions to medications or anesthetics. It may also result in the development of blood clots or infection that can spread throughout the patient’s body. In some instances, damage to other organs or surrounding tissues can occur which can result in considerable pain and suffering for the patient. Recovery from a kidney surgery during which no adverse events occur can take between three to six weeks. If adverse events occur, this recovery period can extend into months or even years.

Surgical Errors & “Never Events”

Approximately 22% of medical malpractice claims in the United States stem from wrong-site surgical procedures. A significant number of these involve improper removal of kidneys. In some cases, the error occurs when physicians mistake adrenal glands for the kidney. Other instances involve the removal of a healthy kidney instead of the one that is cancerous. in some instances, the kidney itself is mistaken for a cancerous tumor and removed.

Wrong-site surgical procedures are considered “never events.” Never events include surgery on the wrong patient, burns caused by medical instruments, administration of medicine to which the patient has a known allergy, etc. It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 never events recorded in the United States each year.

Nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists, and other members of the surgical team are required to adhere to strict surgical procedures and guidelines. These procedures and guidelines are in place to prevent never events from taking place and include properly verifying the procedure, marking the site, and taking a short break before an incision is made. These procedures are covered under the “Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure, and Wrong Person Surgery.” This protocol went into effect in 2004 and is considered the definitive guide for surgical procedures in the United States. When members of the medical team fail in their duty of care to the patient as spelled out within established protocols, they are negligent in their responsibilities.

Kidney Transplant Costs

In instances where a suitable donor kidney is located, the average cost is $250,000 with a treatment cost of $16,000 in the first year. This includes the cost of medical visits and anti-rejection drugs. Nationwide, patients who require a kidney transplant can wait between 3-5 years before a suitable donor kidney is found.

Diminished Life Expectancy, Dialysis, & Other Damage

When a patient survives a wrong-site surgery that removes a healthy kidney, it does not mean they will recover their health with a transplant. In instances where a suitable donor kidney is identified and successfully transplanted, the individual’s life expectancy is only 12 to 20 years. Additionally, there is a significant risk of transplant rejection. Often, transplant recipients still require regular dialysis to stay healthy.

When a patient requires dialysis, the average cost in the United States is nearly $90,000 per year. This is a significant financial burden for a patient to carry. In addition to the cost of treatment, the individual’s quality of life is significantly impacted and the ability to work a regular job is hindered. Most patients who rely on dialysis for survival can expect to live between 5-10 years, after which time the treatment is no longer effective.

Patients who are fortunate to have one functioning kidney are at significant risk of developing high blood pressure or proteinuria. Over time, kidney function will diminish and the organ will struggle to remove waste from the bloodstream. Further, individuals are advised to refrain from many activities and sports as this can overload the kidney and result in organ failure. In all instances, living with one kidney can reduce the individual’s quality of life and ability to engage in the activities enjoyed prior to suffering a wrong-site surgical procedure.

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