Gall bladder removal—what surgeons call “cholecystectomy” is one of the top five most common surgeries performed in the United States. These surgeries are typically performed by “general surgeons” who also perform a large variety of other surgeries.
The goal of the surgery is simple: to isolate the gallbladder from its blood supply and other organs in the body, and then remove it. A key part of this procedure, and the cause of many injuries when it is done wrong, is to clip the cystic duct and cut it away from where it is connected to the common bile duct , leaving the common bile duct intact to carry bile produced by the liver directly to the patient’s intestines. As an analogy, the operation essentially eliminates a “side street” and the gall bladder it goes to, leaving the “highway” of the common bile duct intact to carry the bile.
The introduction of laparoscopic surgery, performed through small tubes with a camera instead of with a large incision, has made gallbladder surgery safer and much easier on the patient—when it goes well.
All surgeons are taught methods to prevent the most serious injury that can be caused by this surgery, which is injury to the common bile duct. Today, 30 years after surgeons started doing gall bladder removal surgeries with laparoscopes, there is no excuse for failing to identify the cystic and common bile ducts, and no excuse for cutting and clipping the wrong one. Unfortunately, when surgeons don’t pay attention, or don’t use these safety techniques, the common bile duct can be badly injured—or even destroyed.
When that happens, the patient’s bile either pours into his abdomen, damaging the organs there and causing great pain, or backs up into the liver, causing a dangerous build up of bile in the patient’s system. Either way, the patient will require at least one and sometimes many more surgeries to correct the problem, and in some cases will even require a liver transplant.
Our clients have been terribly injured by this inexcusable error. They have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses and suffered great pain and permanent disability. All because a surgeon was in too much of a hurry to make certain that he was cutting and clipping the right duct. This is just not acceptable today: now that surgeons know exactly what the risks are and exactly how to prevent injury in this common surgery, an injury to the common bile duct is inexcusable.