Lawsuit Alleges Surgeon Left Gap In Patient’s Femur During Revision Surgery

The board-certified orthopedic surgeon who had performed Mary’s knee replacement in 2013 was no longer practicing at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital when Mary followed up about her knee in 2018. Instead, Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital assigned Dr. Copithorne to evaluate Mary…, Maine Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Alleges Surgeon Left Gap In Patient’s Femur During Revision Surgery, Dec 2023


At this November 13, 2018, appointment, Dr. Copithorne evaluated Mary and concluded her knee replacement components were still functioning correctly. Unrelated to her knee, Mary mentioned at this appointment that she was having some hip pain. Dr. Copithorne told her that this was likely arthritis, and that she should come back to see him for another appointment to do a hip x-ray and examination.


Mary did as Dr. Copithorne advised. She returned to see him on December 14, 2019. Dr. Copithorne reviewed x-rays of her hip and pelvis, and told Mary that she had osteoarthritis in her right hip. Dr. Copithorne told Mary that no treatment would help her except a hip replacement.


On February 5, 2019, Dr. Copithorne performed right total hip arthroplasty (hip replacement) on Mary at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital. Mary was discharged from the hospital the following day with referral orders for physical therapy and two scheduled follow-up appointments with Dr. Copithorne: a two-week follow-up on February 20, 2019, and a six-week follow-up with x-rays on March 20, 2019.


On May 24, 2019, Mary returned to her next appointment with Dr. Copithorne. Like the prior appointment, this one also started with x-rays being taken of her hip. This time, Dr. Copithorne came into the exam room and pulled up x-ray images on his computer screen. After looking at them, he got up and left the room without speaking to Mary. He came back, looked at the x-ray images again, and left the room once more.


On his computer screen, Dr. Copithorne pulled up both the May 24, 2019 x-rays taken that morning, and the March 20, 2019 x-rays taken at her appointment with him two months prior. He explained that both sets of x-rays showed the femoral stem component subsidence, demonstrating this was something that had happened prior to her last appointment with him on March 20, 2019.


Dr. Copithorne told Mary he did not know how he had missed the femoral stem subsidence on her March 20, 2019 x-rays. He told her he must have read the wrong x-ray. Dr. Copithorne told Mary she needed revision surgery as soon as possible to remove and replace the subsided femoral stem. 


Dr. Copithorne proceeded to take Mary back to the operating room for revision surgery on June 4, 2019. At this point, two-and-a-half months had passed since the March 20, 2019 appointment when he failed to diagnose the femoral subsidence of Mary’s hip. Because Dr. Copithorne had delayed the diagnosis of the femoral stem subsidence for two-and-a-half months, he missed the window for an easy revision surgery. In the two-and-a-half months that had passed since March 20, 2019, the bone surrounding the femoral stem component had grown into the prosthesis, firmly anchoring it into place. As a result, the femoral stem component could not be removed without an osteotomy—cutting the bone. This meant that Mary now required much more invasive revision surgery to cut out the femoral stem component from the femur.


During the course of the June 4, 2019 revision surgery, Dr. Copithorne proceeded to saw through Mary’s femur to remove the firmly-anchored femoral stem component. The femur is the longest, strongest bone in the bone [sic], and its stability is a critical part of being able to walk, stand, and move the leg. Dr. Copithorne attempted to put back together Mary’s femur using wire to hold it in place. But instead of securing the pieces of bone closely together, he left a gap in excess of 1 cm—a gap that was too large to heal postoperatively. Mary was left with significant pain, instability, weakness, and mobility impairment.


Dr. Copithorne told Mary she would improve with continued physical therapy. But after months of rehab, she still needed a cane to walk and her pain was getting worse. In December 2019, Mary stopped seeing Dr. Copithorne and started treating with an orthopedic surgeon at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she underwent surgery to have reinforcing hardware added to stabilize her femur.


Dr. Copithorne breached the standard of care for a reasonably competent orthopedic surgeon in the care that he provided and/or failed to provide to Mary. Dr. Copithorne’s continuing course of negligent treatment, the lawsuit alleges.


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