Doctor puts wrong baby through surgery

Feb 10, 2016 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Image: Geoksfam2/Getty Images

New moms worry about all kinds of things. Will their baby breast or bottle-feed? Are they healthy? Will they develop according to pediatric guidelines? One Tennessee mom discovered a new fear she never would have imagined: Will the hospital accidentally operate on my healthy baby?

Much to Jennifer Melton’s surprise, after delivering her child at University Medical Center in Lebanon, the answer was “yes.” Shortly after giving birth, Melton’s newborn son, Nate, was taken by hospital staff for what she believed would be a routine checkup.

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Melton told CNN affiliate WTVF that her son was “perfect, healthy, beautiful” prior to the mistaken surgery. Afterward, when the nurse returned with her baby, Melton claims she began “crying hysterically” when she realized the doctor had unnecessarily operated on her son.

The frenectomy performed on Nate is a procedure that dissects the frenulum, allowing for greater tongue movement, particularly in infants with limited range of tongue motion, which can hamper a baby’s ability to latch. In Nate’s case, he was born with a normal, fully functioning tongue and didn’t require the surgery. Now the baby's parents wonder what effects this unnecessary operation may have on their child’s feeding and speech development going forward.

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So how does something like this happen? And is it something moms who've just delivered really need to worry about? Well, yes and no.

The unnamed doctor who operated on the newborn accepted responsibility for the mistake, stating in a hospital progress report: 

“I had asked for the wrong infant. I had likely performed the procedure on an infant different than the one I intended to … and I admitted my mistake and apologized.”

The hospital has declined to comment, citing confidentiality due to federal privacy laws.

What can parents do to prevent this kind of thing from happening to their own children?

Obviously there's no perfect answer here. Moms need to sleep at some point, and you can't keep your eye on your baby at all times. But moms can minimize their risk of a medical mistake by asking the hospital staff to check their ID bracelet, to confirm the procedure on their chart, to have the surgeon mark the surgical area prior to surgery and to not worry about being “polite” in these situations.

With more than 40 mistaken surgeries performed every week in the United States, taking extra steps to ensure a patient’s safety is not just smart — it’s necessary.

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