Wrong Patient!: When a Surgical Error is More Than a Simple Mix-up

When doctors at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya opened up a patient’s skull, they made a shocking discovery. Though they were doing a procedure to remove a blood clot, there was no sign of the clot in the patient’s brain. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t the case of a medical miracle or inexplicable healing. They were just operating on the wrong patient!

The mix-up occurred in mid-February, when two patients came to the hospital with head injuries. One needed to be treated for a blood clot, while the other needed treatment to reduce brain swelling. At some point, the identification tags were mixed up, and the wrong patient was brought in. The hospital staff operated for hours before realizing the mistake.

Thankfully, it appears that both patients are in recovery after receiving the appropriate procedures. A neurologist, two nurses, and an anesthesiologist involved in the incident did not get off so easily, however. All four professionals received suspension over the incident, a decision that has been met with protests by doctors across Kenya.

The Lasting Harm of Surgical Errors

When it comes to an important procedure, surgical errors have big consequences. If a doctor operates on the wrong person, it could force a delay in treatment for the person who needs it. If this occurs, the untreated person could suffer from permanent injuries or death. And if a doctor operates on the wrong body part—the wrong eye for cataract surgery, for example—it can lead to unnecessary complications, like infections, as well as permanent damage.

According to a study by WebMD, surgical errors  result in 4,000 every year.  Of these injuries, around 33% lead to permanent injury, while 6.6% of errors contributed to a patient’s wrongful death. Another common surgical error is the leaving of a foreign object, like a sponge or scalpel, inside the patient’s body.

Causes of Surgical Errors

Generally, surgical errors are just that—errors. They do not usually occur through malicious behavior, but rather through:

  • Negligence
  • Lack of experience
  • Poor communication among members of the surgical team
  • Insufficient planning
  • Fatigue
  • Drug or alcohol use

In some cases, the issue might be part of a bigger problem. If a hospital is understaffed, surgeons and other professionals might be forced to work for excessive amounts of time, leading to an increase in errors caused by sleep deprivation. It sounds like understaffing was at the heart of the errors in the Nairobi, which is why the suspensions are being met with fierce backlash.

When a surgical error occurs, determining if the fault lies with the surgeon or with the hospital can be a complex issue. However, the affected patient has a right to justice and compensation for any permanent injuries, no matter who was at fault. If someone experiences this kind of shocking medical malpractice, or loses a loved one to a surgical error, talking to a medical malpractice lawyer should be one of the first steps.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.


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