Thoracic surgery is designed to take pressure off the nerves to the arm and can be achieved by removing the muscles that surround the nerves (scalene muscles), removing the first rib, or doing both. In my case, Dr. McKenna concluded that my first rib needed to be removed to avoid the return of blood clots in my carotid artery.
Upon the completion of my procedure, I awoke to a completely paralyzed arm. My family member and I immediately informed Dr. McKenna. He was visibly shocked and proceeded to order a series of tests to figure out what went wrong.
After being discharged from the hospital, I continued to pursue my own neurological and nerve tests in hopes of determining the reason behind my paralysis. My neurologist discovered that a series of nerves (brachial plexus) had been nicked during my surgical procedure.
Obviously, I could not function properly with only one mobile arm and had to rely on friends and relatives to help with daily life such as walking the dog, cooking and cleaning. I endured great pain and could not sleep or work for weeks.
While I had many friends, relatives and even doctors advising me to file suit, the last thing I wanted was litigation. I was already physically, mentally and emotionally spent.
After my neurologist determined the cause of my injury, I sought physical therapy several times a week to try to preserve whatever healthy nerves and tissue I had in the injured area. I also began to seek acupuncture treatments and Chinese medicine from an acupuncturist and herbalist who had experience with brachial plexus injuries. I was under these treatments for five months before I started getting feeling back in my arm.
I made sure to inform Dr. McKenna’s office of my test results as they became available as well as the costly treatments I needed to determine if it was even possible to regain mobility of my injured arm. Surprisingly, Dr. Robert J. McKenna Jr. and his staff were more concerned about the $3,000 my insurance company did not cover for the surgery he performed. I knew then I had a bigger problem on my hands.
I immediately sought the help of my PCP who believed I had a case and referred me to several thoracic outlet surgeons in the area. I provided them with copies of my post-op report and they each concluded my injury was a result of Dr. McKenna’s neglect. Two of the thoracic surgeons with whom I spoke (I’ve omitted their names from my blog to protect their identity at their request.) indicated that Dr. McKenna wrote in my post-op report that my “brachial plexus seemed to be relaxed,” so surgery proceeded. They advised me to file suit immediately because a doctor should never proceed with an operation unless they are sure of something. Apparently, Dr. McKenna’s choice of the word “seemed” indicated that he was anything but certain. The surgeons also explained that they could not personally testify for me as they know or know of Dr. McKenna. Interesting, no? I had to locate thoracic surgeons in another region of the country who would come to the same conclusion and be willing to testify.
After locating an attorney who would take my case, I’d already received extensive and costly physical therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and acupuncture for over a year. I was able to again lift my arm and move my fingers.
My attorney located a thoracic outlet surgeon/specialist in the midwest who concluded that, although Dr. McKenna did inflict injury and was responsible for nicking my nerves and causing the paralysis, it wasn’t “neglectful;” Therefore, he could not testify. My attorney advised that unless I could secure the testimony of the two local thoracic surgeons, I wouldn’t have a strong malpractice case, making him reluctant to proceed.
To this day, my arm appears normal, but I cannot hold it above my shoulder for longer than four minutes nor can I lift anything more than 7 pounds above my shoulder. I tend to have sporadic pain jolts down my forearm and tingling in my ring and pinky fingers as well. Although I am extremely grateful to be able to again use my hand, my nerve injury – though not as drastic – is permanent and my functions are unfortunately very limited.
Unfortunately, I was forced to surrender to my injury and the neglect of Dr. McKenna. In fact, after recently informing him and his office that my arm functions are still significantly abnormal after all the tests and therapy I sought in an attempt to regain full mobility of my arm, he still demands I pay him that $3,000 my insurance didn’t cover.
The truth is, even if I owed him only $5.00, I would refuse to pay that $5.00 on principle. I believe his reaction to and behavior towards my permanent injury is immoral. I know what I’d do if I were in his shoes. Do you?
So, if you’re reading this, I am glad you are doing your research. That is my purpose for sharing my story. Please choose your surgeon wisely. Don’t hire someone with a history of neglect and lack of morality.