In deposition, surgeon says he left Iowa because of weather

John Chaloupka resigned $380,000 per-year job at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics last June

Dr. John Chaloupka in 2003.
Dr. John Chaloupka in 2003.

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa surgeon who resigned shortly after calling his boss a racially insensitive liar has testified under oath that the driving factor behind his departure was the dreary winter weather, according to a deposition obtained by The Associated Press.

John Chaloupka, an internationally known expert in treating brain aneurysms who directed interventional neuroradiology at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, resigned his $380,000 per-year job last June after 13 years for reasons that have not been fully explained. A month later, Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla., announced it had hired Chaloupka to a similar position.

Chaloupka is still facing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Iowa that alleges he abandoned a patient seeking a cure for a rare disease that caused her ear to become disfigured. As part of that case, he was deposed by the woman’s lawyer in Florida in February and offered the first explanation of his departure from the university.

“Mainly, it was time for me to move on. I was presented with a much better opportunity here, and had lived in Iowa City for 13 years and was getting worn down by the winters and wanted to live in a warmer climate,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Florida court reporting service that took the testimony. “So here I am.”

Chaloupka acknowledged he had “some disputes” with other doctors, but assistant attorney general Anne Updegraff cut off his answer and told him not to elaborate by arguing that was not relevant to the lawsuit. Another state lawyer, Christine Conover, instructed him not to speak about “personnel issues.”

In a legal affidavit shortly before he resigned last June, Chaloupka said he heard his boss, then-radiology chairwoman Laurie Fajardo, call colleague Malik Juweid an “academic terrorist” during a conversation in 2008. Chaloupka said Fajardo also repeatedly referred to a Pakistani doctor who had a long beard and wore traditional Muslim garments “as Osama bin Laden.” He also alleged she made remarks about how she could pay Asian doctors less than others.

“Dr. Fajardo is also known to be frequently untruthful and deliberately misleading,” Chaloupka wrote. “She has lied to me and other faculty on numerous occasions, which has resulted in serious intra- and inter-departmental problems, as well as an overall highly toxic and dysfunctional work environment.”

Chaloupka filed the affidavit to support a lawsuit brought by Juweid, a suspended radiology professor who claims Fajardo and other university officials discriminated and retaliated against him. Fajardo stepped down as radiology chair last fall after a blistering departmental review blamed her for low faculty morale and communications problems, but she remains at the school. She has generally denied making discriminatory remarks, and says she was referring to “academic terrorism” generally in one conversation.

Juweid has alleged that Chaloupka left the university after being critical of care provided by colleagues in neurosurgery. Chaloupka has not returned repeated phone messages seeking comment, and UI spokesman Tom Moore said he was not aware of Chaloupka having raised any such concerns.

The malpractice lawsuit Chaloupka is facing was filed in 2009 by Kimberly Buehrer, who said she went to him two years earlier for treatment of her arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, because he is an expert in the field. The condition involves the tangling of blood vessels that causes an abnormal blood flow, and her complications included bleeding, damage to the skin by the ear and constantly hearing a pulsing sound in one ear.

Buehrer alleges that after Chaloupka performed a procedure known as an embolization, he failed to schedule follow-up surgeries and refused to see her despite numerous inquiries. Ultimately, Buehrer alleges she finished her treatment in Arkansas after being told no one at UIHC was available to continue.

During his deposition, Chaloupka denied abandoning Buehrer and said his standard procedure was to wait several weeks to see how AVM patients respond to the first procedure before deciding how to proceed with further treatments. He acknowledged that he traveled to China after her surgery for work — “I have no explanation, but I have become very popular in China,” he said — but that he expected to see Buehrer again a few months later.

He said his nurse coordinators had spent “quite a bit of time” corresponding with Buehrer through telephone calls and email, even if he did not personally.

“I think we went through extraordinary measures to encourage her to continue being treated by us and tried to accommodate her as best as we can,” he said. “I think we were quite responsive to her.”

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