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Man sues doctor who left surgery for bank

Charles Algeri
Charles Algeri

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NEW YORK, New York (CNN) -- The patient who was left on an operating table while his doctor went to the bank filed a malpractice suit against the surgeon Wednesday.

Charles Algeri, who was undergoing spinal fusion surgery, says he suffers severe pain because Dr. David C. Arndt abandoned him on the operating table with an open incision for half an hour while he went to cash a check.

The Massachusetts hospital suspended Arndt after the July 10 incident, and issued a statement that said it's been taking "a very hard and critical look" at its procedures.

CNN's Connie Chung spoke with Algeri for an exclusive interview, his first since filing the lawsuit, along with his attorney Marc Breakstone on "Connie Chung Tonight."

CONNIE CHUNG, CNN: Mr. Algeri, tell me, since the surgery, how have you been?

CHARLES ALGERI: Not very good. The pain is getting progressively worse every day.

CHUNG: Well, I know that this operation was a spinal fusion and that the doctor left for 35 minutes. Did you have any idea that he was gone?

ALGERI: No, none at all. I was under general anesthetic at the time. I didn't find out for, like, a month. Almost a month after the surgery is when I actually found out.

CHUNG: How did you find out?

ALGERI: The hospital called me up and they told me there was something they thought I might like to know, that the doctor left. And I said, "Well, everybody needs a break."

And they said, "Well, he left the building and he went down to Harvard square and to the bank." ... They wanted to tell me that my confidentiality would be left out -- my name would be left out in case there was an investigation into it.

CHUNG: Do you know what prompted the hospital to call you right at that time, because it was a month later?

ALGERI: The next day, I picked up the newspaper and I turned on the news and my phone started ringing. I was all over the place -- well, the case was all over, not my name -- because the media had ahold of it and it broke the next day. That's why I believe they told me that day.

CHUNG: Mr. Algeri, you must have been just astounded. I mean, what were you thinking and feeling inside once you heard that this doctor had left you on the operating table?

ALGERI: I hung up the phone. And they told me. And I said, "Goodbye." And I didn't believe it. It was surreal. And I said, 'No, that couldn't have been happening. This must be like a dream.' And I just hung up the phone.

And as it sank in, I said, 'This isn't a dream. It actually happened.' Then I started to get a little mad and [wonder] "why me?" and the depression and all of that. I went through all the stages.

CHUNG: Well, let's bring in your lawyer now. Mr. Breakstone, tell us, you are not suing the hospital. Why not?

MARC BREAKSTONE, ATTORNEY FOR ALGERI: Well, in Massachusetts, we have an antiquated law called the charitable immunity cap which limits damages to a charitable institution, like Mount Auburn Hospital, to $20,000.

And Dr. Arndt has $5 million of insurance coverage and really bears full responsibility for the damage done to Mr. Algeri, which is a significant permanent nerve injury.

CHUNG: So, what you've done is file that malpractice suit.


CHUNG: And what do you hope to get from that?

BREAKSTONE: Well, we hope to get answers for the bizarre behavior of this physician, who left his patient opened up with a 14-inch incision, under general anesthesia, while he went to the bank. And we hope to get full compensation for Mr. Algeri for his very significant permanent injuries.

CHUNG: Now, according to the Department of Public Health, they don't quite agree with you. I mean, they don't believe that your claims are valid.

BREAKSTONE: Well, I don't quite agree with you, Connie. That's not a fair reading of the Department of Public Health report.

They found that three of the four claims were valid. And they found that the X-rays taken in the operating room at the end of the procedure did not show, as one of my experts suggested, that the fusion looked as if it was going to fail. Subsequent X-rays done with contrast, a myelogram, showed that the fusion grafts had actually fallen out, like mortar that had been dropped on the ground, rather than placed between bricks.

CHUNG: Mr. Algeri, you gave a little idea in the beginning of how you are, but perhaps you can tell us now. I mean, will you have to have another operation or did the spinal fusion actually work?

ALGERI: No, it did not work. Actually, we've been fighting with the insurance company. Within two weeks, I hope I'm going to be having another surgery to straighten it out, which means they have to take apart the screws and the rod. They have to take apart the whole hardware to fix this thing, this piece that fell out. And they have to put me back together again.

So, it means another scar, another week in the hospital, maybe another two weeks rehab, running through Christmas. And the pain is worse and worse. I mean, I've thought about not having it done, but there's no way I cannot have it done.

CHUNG: And what do you think should happen to Dr. Arndt?

ALGERI: (laughter) Everybody asks me this. And I would like for him to live in my shoes for a couple of weeks or a month, just to see what his actions have done to me.

A lot of people think I'm out for money. And it's not that. It's that I want to get well. I would like him to live, to go through what I go through every day just to get out of bed, just to get in and out of the bathroom, let's say ... walk a mile in my shoes.

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