90-yo woman gets wrong leg amputated at hospital

A hospital in Austria amputated the wrong leg of a 90-year old woman who suffered from vascular disease. After doctors realized they had taken her healthy leg, they amputated the other a few days later.


  1. This is terrible, and should never happen. Hospitals should have policies in place for redundant protections. All of that having been said, it should be pointed out that for many patients with vascular disease severe enough to require amputation, the other leg is probably not “healthy” at all – just less severely affected. Again, that doesn’t excuse the event, but makes it easier to understand the confusion. If one leg is diseased enough to require amputation, and the other one is also severely affected (but not to the point that amputation is required), then that is much different than confusing an obviously diseased leg from a completely normal and healthy one.

  2. My hospital in the USA does have redundant policies. The site is marked w/ a Sharpie “Yes”. In the OR there is a “timeout”. The means EVERYONE stops what he is doing and confirms the procedure (ie today we will be doing exactly this, to this place on this patient John Doe using this equipment which is in this room at this time). It order for the redundancy to work, it must be done.

  3. I had a patient, who before going into surgery, took it upon herself to write in sharpie on the non-surgical knee “NOT THIS KNEE”. Don’t think it’s a bad idea.

    1. I had a procedure on one of my legs and they made me write with the funny blue pencil thing on my good one.

      I wrote “NOOO!!” but thought it sounded too harsh so I drew a smiley face under it :)

  4. Damned socialized medicine. The free market ensures that this sort of thing never happens.

  5. My mom had a leg amputated towards the end. Certainly the remaining leg was not in great shape, but believe me, there’s a world of difference between having ONE somewhat functioning leg, and having none! It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories where someone goes in to get help from the only people who can provide that help, and then they screw up and make their life worse :(

  6. I’ve seen multiple places recommend that before surgery, you go over the procedure with the surgeon, including writing on yourself with a marker to make sure the right thing gets done.

    Unfortunately it’s probably too much to ask of this poor woman, and it’s sad that it is even necessary.

    It seems like there should be a very simple solution to this. Like, a simple tag necklace that the attending physician can put on the patient, and that the patient can see, which says “procedure: xxxxxxx” and they ALWAYS require that to be present and reviewed before cutting.

  7. Re: Sharpie.

    Hell yes, it’s not a bad idea! You can bet, if I ever have to go under for something like that, I’m doing it absolutely.

    A nice cross-hatch pattern over the entire area, with bold lettering that says, “NOT THIS ONE” whatever it is, right along with a contact number for somebody who is awake and able to clarify exactly what needs to happen.

  8. Sadly, this happens from time to time.

    When I was in high school, a classmate needed to have surgery on one of her wrists. The morning of the surgery, one of the pre-op nurses drew a whole bunch of Xes on my classmate’s healthy arm so the surgeon would know to avoid it.

    IIRC, a wrongful amputation like this one had just happened, and was all over the news.

    1. I’d be worried that a bunch of x’s might be misinterpreted as “cut here.” I’d probably leave a note like “before cutting here, please call my malpractice lawyer at 555-1212 and tell him to start drawing up papers.”

  9. I had surgery on my arm. I was quite put off when the doctor asked what he was doing for me that day. He’s the professional that ordered the surgery and he has to ask what’s up? WTF? Then I later figured out he was probably (hopefully) doing a pre op check.

    1. He probably wanted to see if you were aware of what was being done to you. I’ve been asked the same question! It’s hard not to answer “Don’t you know???”

  10. Preop-checks where we ask if you know what’s being done that day are the result of people complaining that they don’t know what’s happening. We hate it too-the right time for that is in an office.

    If you’re mentally with it, and you have something to be biopsied or a place to be avoided-use a sharpie.

    There are plenty of redundancies in place-we’re good about that in the US because our lawyers are rabid.

  11. When I had knee surgery, the surgeon and a nurse (?) came by while I was waiting. The surgeon handed me a Sharpie and had *me* mark and initial the knee that was going to be operated on.

  12. I had knee surgery a couple of years ago. Before going in, they handed me the Sharpie and had me label the correct knee. Just for good measure, I also labeled the wrong knee with: Not This One!!!

  13. Just make sure to write “Correct” when it on your left side. Putting right on a left knee is kinda ambiguous.

  14. I saw an episode of “House” once, where going into the surgery they had “not this leg” written all over the wrong leg. I was wondering “do they really do that”. Evidently, not all the time in Australia.

  15. The comment thread ended at #1. Nothing else needed to be said; it was perfect.

    Also for shame #10.

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