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Is it medical malpractice to operate on the wrong eye?

When a doctor, nurse or other medical staff member makes a mistake on a patient, the resulting injuries can be serious. Some surgical errors can be fixed by additional medical procedures. But in some cases the extent of the damage from the mistake are not immediately clear.

Recently, the story of a 4-year-old boy became national news. He struggled with a wandering right eye that a doctor believed could be fixed through surgery. The little boy and his family prepared for the surgery. But things did not go as planned.

The little boy's parents were waiting for him to come out of surgery but things seemed to be taking longer than expected. At one point, a nurse came out to them and told them that the doctor was operating on both of the boy's eyes. There was no other explanation offered to the confused parents at that point.

When the surgery was over, the doctor came out to tell the parents that she had operated on the left eye initially. When she realized the mistake she quickly operated on the correct, right eye. Apparently a nurse covered up the mark that indicated which eye the doctor was to operate on.

Now, the little boy's parents are noticing that his left eye is now wandering a bit and his right eye does not seem to be fixed by the procedure. In fact, just last week the little boy went to see a doctor to determine whether any his eyes suffered any permanent damage. His family is likely wondering whether additional surgeries will be required or if his eyes will ever fully recover from the doctor's mistake.

It is not clear whether the boy's family will pursue a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. But the little boy's mother has stated that she wants people to be aware of what happened so that the same thing does not happen to other families.

Source: ABC News online, "Medical Mistake: Surgeon Operates on the Wrong Eye of a 4-Year-Old Boy," Michael Murray, 19 April 2011

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