The medical community of this country, proud of its health care, reacted with shock and dismay this week when a surgeon at the Hospital Nacional de Niños (HNN)  –  Children’s Hospital – was suspended for four months while being investigated for having abandoned a surgery twice on a 26-day-old baby.

The child being operated on subsequently died. At this stage of the investigation it is unclear if the death was directly related to the specialist heart surgeon turning over the operation to non-specialist surgeons to be able to allegedly perform an operation at a private clinic. But the facts appear damning.

The probe into the 57-year-old surgeon’s actions began Feb. 23 but details only now are leaking out. The operation in question was performed last Jan. 15. A notification was published in the official newspaper La Gaceta Feb. 20

According to accounts pieced together, the operation began at 10 a.m. Jan. 15 when the surgeon, a heart specialist, left suddenly to make phone calls. Apparently this was around 1:30 and he was absent from the OR for an hour and 20 minutes.

But at 4:37 in the afternoon, he left the OR permanently, leaving the other two doctors to finish up, although neither one was a specialist in heart surgery. (A 35-year old surgeon also have been suspended for four months pending termination of the investigation.)

The national newspaper La Nacion checked medical statistics and found that mortality rates at the Children’s Hospital are about 20% higher than in other hospitals in the region. This figure was confirmed by by La Nacion at the teaching, nutrition and health institution INCIENCA. (This is a shocking revelation for a hospital of this stature.)

It is reported that the heart surgeon left early to conduct an appendectomy at a private clinic. The mother of the dead baby confirmed to La Nacion that it was the non-heart specialist who is being investigated who signed the death certificate for the child.

Acting director at the hospital, Orlando Urroz, would say little to La Nacion other than that it was “a grave incident.” But two years ago, La Nacion related, two separate groups of foreign doctors had visited the hospital and found serious technical flaws in cardiac surgery performed here.

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