Woman Wakes up From Surgery to Find She Had Procedure on Wrong Part of Body

A South Carolina woman says she woke up from surgery to find that her doctor had operated on the wrong part of her body.

Natalie Avilez from Franklin County told the WLTX television station on Tuesday that the surgeon had carried out the procedure on the wrong side and wrong part of her spine.

After the surgery, Avilez said the surgeon came to speak to her in the recovery room and admitted to his mistake.

"He started apologizing, saying that he made a mistake and he went in on the wrong side," Avilez told WLTX.

"He did try to get me to authorize right when I was waking up for him to put me right back under to go on the correct side and redo the surgery, but my charge nurse would not let him get authorization because I wasn't fully awake," Avilez said.

Avilez had been suffering intense back pain for more than a year before she was referred for surgery.

But the surgery did not go as planned, medical records seen by WLTX confirm. The records state that Avilez had an issue with her right-side disc. But the procedure performed by the surgeon was listed as a left-side hemilaminectomy—a technique for relieving very painful spinal problems.

"When he noticed that he was on the wrong side, he did try to go under the spine going in through the spots where he wasn't supposed to be," Avilez said.

Avilez allowed the doctor to perform the surgery the following day, but she told WLTX that since then, her back pain has only become worse.

"I'm always in constant pain. I kind of feel like I would have been better off not even doing it at all," she said.

In January 2021, Avilez filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeon and his clinic, Mercy Clinic East Communities. But, still according to WLTX, the surgeon's lawyers have argued in a legal document that he is "immune from liability for the alleged acts or omissions pursuant to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act."

The PREP Act was activated in March 2020 as part of the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure, which was first introduced in 2005, applies to public health emergencies. It provides legal immunity to companies and certain professionals who manufacture, distribute, or use "covered countermeasures"—such as drugs and devices—that may be used to treat COVID-19 patients or combat the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Goodwin Law.

But Avilez's attorney, Morgan Murphy, said no one was claiming that COVID had anything to do with the surgeon operating on the wrong side of her spine.

"It is a fairly straightforward situation. A doctor should never perform the incorrect surgery, period," Murphy told WLTX.

An operating theater
Stock image showing a surgical procedure. A woman woke up from surgery to find that her doctor had operated on the wrong part of her body. iStock