A lawsuit by the parents of a 3-year-old boy who died in a Portland hospital throws a fresh twist into Dr. Jayant M. Patel's saga, implicating Oregon Health & Science University in the case of the surgeon branded "Dr. Death."
The suit, filed last month in Multnomah County Circuit Court by Matt and Ana McClellan, seeks a total of $1.5 million in damages from Patel, Kaiser Permanente, OHSU and the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners, the state outfit that regulates doctors.
Kaiser employed Patel for more than a decade and recommended that he perform abdominal surgery on the McClellans' son, Ian, at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, OHSU's pediatric unit. Ian McClellan developed a post-surgery infection, and a second surgery by Patel failed to repair the damage. Ian died on Valentine's Day 1999.
Seven years later, two things stand out for his parents.
First, that their firstborn son spent his last hours of consciousness in pain. Second, that OHSU staff assured them he'd get the best surgical care.
"They said, 'Don't worry, he's in good hands,'" says Ana McClellan, a former social worker.
The McClellans, who live in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood and now have two young children, say they'd put Ian's death behind them until last April, when they saw a local TV news report on Patel.
The surgeon became notorious last year when his problem-plagued stint at a rural Australian hospital came to light. Accused of negligence in numerous patient deaths, Patel is the focus of an ongoing Australian criminal investigation (see "Dr. Death's Doomsday," WW, Feb. 15, 2006).
"I looked at the TV, and I said, 'I haven't seen that face in years, but I recognize it,'" Ana says. "Then I just started screaming."
While Patel's employment at Kaiser is well-known, the McClellans' suit apparently brings OHSU into the mix for the first time, charging that the hospital should have checked up on Patel.
Shortly before Patel operated on Ian McClellan, Kaiser restricted the doctor from performing several other types of surgery following an extensive review of his track record elsewhere.
Meanwhile, though the Board of Medical Examiners arranged for Patel to surrender his Oregon license last year, the McClellans say it, too, should pay.
For much of the '90s, Kaiser and OHSU both failed to report malpractice cases to the board as required by law. Such a disclosure, the McClellans say, would have alerted the board to several suits involving Patel. They argue that the state board should have acted to get malpractice info from the hospitals.
Neither the board nor Kaiser returned WW's messages. And OHSU declined to comment.
The McClellans say they discovered the true cause of Ian's fatal infection—a perforated bowel suffered during the original surgery—only when checking medical records after seeing the TV report last year.
"This is about trying to call attention to a system where something is seriously broken," says Matt McClellan, an immigration lawyer.
Patel is thought to be living in Portland's westside suburbs since leaving Australia last year.
Last month, Australian cops asked prosecutors to request Patel's extradition from the United States on manslaughter and fraud charges. Patel's Portland attorney, Stephen Houze, has vowed to fight extradition.