Two recent surgical errors, followed by serious medical complications, have led to the closing, at least temorarily, of the pediatric heart surgery unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In addition, state public health officials are investigating the circumstances of the errors.
The recent complications included a baby who had surgery in January and one who had surgery in March. Both babies survived, but the baby from the January procedure was reported to have neurological complications. There was also one infant death in the last twenty months.
According to news reports, the Boston hospital opened a specialized pediatric cardiac surgery unit two years ago after hiring a pediatric heart surgeon. The goal was to have a unit that specialized in heart surgery on children, but the program apparently never took off. The unit was performing only four or five surgeries per month, far below the rate considered appropriate to keep a service properly experienced.
The internal investigation at Massachusetts General Hospital may also lead to an on-site investigation by the Department of Public Health, which could lead to recommendations for improvements. The investigations should reveal whether the complications resulted from preventable surgical errors or other medical malpractice.
MGH halts a pediatric program, Boston Globe, April 17, 2009