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$17M Verdict in Stomach Staple Case

Just Desserts

$17M in Death of Stomach-Staple Malpractice Suit

By Denise Buffa

Two sons of a woman who died of starvation after a gastric-bypass operation have been awarded more than $16.8 million in damages for their loss.

But that won't replace their 36-year-old mom, Eufemia Martinez, who had her stomach stapled down to the size of two tablespoons and her intestines rerouted at North General Hospital in Harlem.

She later died of malnutrition and liver failure at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, family lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said.

Asked at trial what he missed most since his mother died, Julio Martinez, who was 10 years old when she passed away, said, "My mom's hugs."

Eufemia Martinez — who is also survived by an older son, Franklyn Reyes, then 14 — went under the knife, wielded by Dr. Bashir Zikria, at North General on Oct. 6, 2000. But she wasn't even a candidate for the surgery, Lichtman said.

The Bronx mom stood 5-foot-6 and weighed 230 pounds. But the doctor "changed the records" to make her height 5-foot-3 so she could be considered morbidly obese to medically require the surgery, Lichtman said.

"You heard about predatory lending? This was predatory medicine," the lawyer said. "This surgery is a surgery of last resort. It's not a cosmetic procedure."

In Martinez's case, the doctor botched the surgery, Lichtman said. Surgical errors left Martinez with major complications, including intestinal blockage, requiring her to have two more operations, he said.

By January 2001, Martinez had become malnourished and weak. She entered St. Barnabas for treatment, was discharged after 10 days, and then readmitted in February, Lichtman said.

She was able to eat only two tablespoons at a time, five to six times a day, according to Lichtman. That left her with insufficient minerals, vitamins and proteins, and she died three weeks later, he said.

A Bronx Supreme Court jury awarded the family $16.8 million from North General and the doctor, who could not be reached. A hospital spokesman did not return phone calls for comment.

St. Barnabas struck a confidentiality settlement with the family before the verdict came in. A lawyer and spokesman for St. Barnabas had no comment.

North General Hospital in Harlem was cited in Crain's New York Business in December as a hospital that's trying to ease its troubled finances by doing more gastric bypasses.

Hospitals collect an average insurance payment of $10,000 for the procedure.

Originally published in the NY Post on March 24, 2008.

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747 Third Avenue, 23rd Floor | New York, NY 10017|Phone: 212-750-1200|Toll-Free: 1-888-484-5529|Fax: 212-980-4011|Email