A jury in Sandoval County awarded $22.7 million to a decorated U.S. Air Force retiree who has undergone 17 surgeries or procedures after a botched prostate operation at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in 2019.
Armando Graham, 69, ended up at the Mayo Clinic for followup surgery but now has to depend on a mechanical sphincter and a colostomy bag after suffering a tear in his rectum from the initial surgery, according to his attorney, Lisa Curtis of Albuquerque.
After more than eight hours of deliberation, the jury on Thursday found Presbyterian Healthcare Services, Dr. Christopher Gist and Dr. Kevin Hudenko negligent, and concluded the defendants caused Graham’s injuries.
Of the total, the jury assessed $15 million in punitive damages against Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and $107,000 in punitive damages against Gist, a urologist who has since moved to Arizona.
A Presbyterian spokeswoman told the Journal on Friday, “As a not-for-profit organization with deep roots in this community, Presbyterian is strongly committed to caring for the patients we serve. We are evaluating next steps in this case and anticipate additional legal proceedings.”
Presbyterian contended there were no breaches in the standard of care and denied allegations of negligence.
But Curtis said the verdict was a sign that “the community wants Presbyterian to do better. They can afford to hire quality physicians for their patients.”
After Graham underwent an initial surgery, he was discharged without anyone realizing he had a tear to his rectum.
After Graham made two post-operative trips to the Rust emergency department with pain, bleeding and sepsis, the surgical error was discovered and necessitated a specially trained colorectal surgeon, but that didn’t happen for another four months, the lawsuit alleged.
Instead, the lawsuit alleged, Gist called in a general surgeon, Hudenko, to do the repair. But that second surgery failed, and after consulting with University of New Mexico doctors, Graham went to the Mayo Clinic.
“My client should have had radiation for his prostate cancer,” Curtis said.
She said Gist “did an incredibly poor job” at a robot-assisted surgery that cut a hole in Graham’s rectum, but Presbyterian lawyers contended that the surgery didn’t fall below the standard of care.
The lawsuit also alleged that a colorectal surgeon should have been consulted immediately after the tear was found.
Jurors found the conduct of Gist and of Presbyterian Healthcare Services was “reckless or wanton.”
A jury form shows the jury responded “no” when asked if Hudenko’s conduct was “reckless or wanton.”
Gist, in a deposition in the case, said that after Presbyterian terminated his contract he moved to Tucson, Arizona.
“The reason I was given was that I was arrogant,” he said. “I believe confidence is often mistaken for arrogance.”
Another reason, he said during the deposition, “was I was making too much money.” Gist said his pay was based on productivity.
Neither Gist nor Hudenko could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.