Negligence claim: Tiffin man's brain stem was 'punctured' by a University of Iowa doctor during surgery

Patient has numerous neurological issues, according to $15 million malpractice claim against state of Iowa

John #x201c;Jay#x201d; Robertson, who had ringing in his ears and some hearing loss, filed a $15 million medical malprac
John “Jay” Robertson, who had ringing in his ears and some hearing loss, filed a $15 million medical malpractice claim against the state of Iowa asserting that brain surgery performed by a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics doctor punctured his brain stem, causing muscle weakness, speech problems, loss of balance and personality and emotional changes. (Photo courtesy of Guy Cook)

A Tiffin man who had tinnitus — or ringing in his ears — and some hearing loss has filed a $15 million medical malpractice claim against the state after he says his brain stem was “punctured” in surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The puncture caused muscle weakness, speech problems, loss of balance and personality and emotional changes, according to the claim.

John “Jay” Robertson, 43, and his wife, Susan, filed a claim last week with the State Appeal Board seeking damages after a Dec. 21, 2018, surgery performed by Dr. Bruce J. Gantz, an ear, nose and throat doctor and chair of the Otolaryngology Department at UIHC. The claim said the surgery left Robertson with neurological issues he still struggles with.

This kind of claim is filed against the state for money damages when it alleges property damage, personal injury or wrongful death caused by a negligent or wrongful act of a state employee. If the state denies the claim, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit in court and demand a jury civil trial.

According to the claim, Robertson, then 41, went to the outpatient clinic to see Gantz on Dec. 4, 2018, because for several years he had some hearing loss in his right ear, tinnitus and occasional balance problems. Aside from those issues, he was healthy, had no preexisting conditions and owned a “thriving” real estate business, the claim states.

Gantz found a non-cancerous tumor on Robertson’s main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain. But such tumors, the claim states, do not always require treatment.

Robertson was evaluated and had no neurological issues. But instead of monitoring the tumor and taking a “wait and see” approach, Gantz recommended surgery and removed the tumor Dec. 21, 2018.

The claim asserts Gantz performed a craniotomy without the assistance of a brain surgeon, and “negligently” operated the retractor tool, puncturing the brain stem and causing bleeding and injury. Gantz’s conduct was a “breach of the appropriate standard of care,” the claim states.

Gantz and the surgical team, when using the retractor tool, should have had a “head holder or clamp for immobilization and stabilization of cranium,” but there is no documentation in the records that this equipment was used, according to the claim.

The procedure involved microsurgical drilling of the bone at the skull base to expose the area of the brain, the claim states. This part of the skull contains the temporal lobe — largely responsible for creating and preserving conscious and long-term memory, critical blood vessels and the brain stem, according to the claim.

The claim also asserts that after surgery, a ventilation tube was removed from Robertson too early and a “competent neurosurgeon” would know this would be “inappropriate, dangerous and potentially fatal.”

Following the surgery, Robertson didn’t “adequately emerge” from the anesthesia and was paralyzed, said Guy Cook of Des Moines, Robertson’s attorney. A CT scan showed injury to part of the brain stem.

Robertson was healthy and active and had no vision or speech problems before the surgery, Cook said. He also had full muscle strength with no motor skills issues.

Robertson has undergone extensive treatment and physical and occupational therapy at a rehabilitation center, but the surgery left him with a number of neurological problems, including substantial memory loss, personality changes, cognitive issues, emotional changes and fatigue, according to the claim.

He also struggles with balance and coordination and continues to live without full function on the left side of his body, Cook said. He is unable to live fully independently and is cared for by his wife, he said.

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