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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 10, 2006

Surgeon improvised with screwdriver, jury told

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i A botched surgery in which a Hilo doctor allegedly used a sawed-off screwdriver shaft instead of a titanium rod to brace a man's spine is the subject of a malpractice trial in Circuit Court here.

A jury heard opening arguments yesterday in a lawsuit filed by the younger sister of Arturo Iturralde, a Puna man who was supposed to have two titanium stabilizing rods secured with screws on each side of his spine during the surgery at Hilo Medical Center on Jan. 29, 2001.

Instead, Dr. Robert Ricketson sawed off the handle of a screwdriver and used the stainless-steel shaft as a brace, according to lawyer Mark Davis. Ricketson made the substitution when he realized he didn't have the titanium rods needed to complete the operation properly, Davis said.

The screwdriver piece snapped days later when Iturralde, who was 73 at the time of the surgery, fell at the hospital. He had to undergo three additional back surgeries to replace the screwdriver with the proper stabilizing rods and to repair other complications.

A hospital nurse, alarmed by Ricketson's conduct, obtained the screwdriver pieces that were removed during the second surgery and turned them over to a lawyer. The nurse also called the Iturralde family to tell them what had happened, Davis said.

For the next two years Iturralde "was confined to a wheelchair and then a bed with very, very terrible pain," Davis told the jury. He died in 2003, and his sister filed the lawsuit against Ricketson, Hilo Medical Center and Medtronic Sofomor Danek, the company that manufactured the titanium stabilizing rods.

Davis said Medtronic did not ensure the stabilizing rods were in the kits sent to the hospital. He said Ricketson and the operating room staff failed to check before the operation began to be sure the rods were there.

Murray Levin, lawyer for Medtronic, said that Medtronic had the rods delivered to the hospital days before the surgery but that the hospital lost them.

Levin said that Medtronic offered to deliver replacement rods to the hospital within 90 minutes, but that Ricketson improvised to complete the operation.

Davis told the jury that Ricketson's medical license had been suspended or revoked in Oklahoma and Texas and that three months before the Iturralde surgery, Ricketson was placed on "probation" by a medical oversight body in Hawai'i for his "extensive drug use."

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.