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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Albuquerque VAMC: VA's 'PATIENT NO. 28'



Quick said he consented to become the 28th person to receive the new treatment at the VA because Schlicht told him it was safe, proven and cutting-edge.

What he wasn’t told was that the procedure for injecting his spine with the plexiglass-like cement had never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration — and that it didn’t work when tested on pigs.

At the core of Quick’s decision to try the treatment was his trust of Schlicht, who had worked at the VA since 1997.
He had no warning the cement would deteriorate in time, breaking into shards that would migrate from the disc area and slice into the nerve roots of his spinal cord like “little razor blades.” And he had no idea Schlicht, an anesthesiologist, would subsequently move from the VA in Albuquerque to Alamogordo, where his use of the technique would lead to a flood of lawsuits that would force Gerald Champion Regional Hospital into bankruptcy court.

In August, the VA said it would start a comprehensive inquiry and notify and provide care for patients whose treatment by Schlicht failed to meet accepted standards.

There are still no assurances the VA will ever give an accounting to the public.

VA hospital spokeswoman Sonja Brown said in an email last week that “processes are in place to ensure that staff physicians only perform procedures for which they are credentialed and privileged.” She has previously said Schlicht was a staff physician, and not a VA surgeon. He worked at the VA from 1997 to 2006.

“One radiologist looked at the X-rays and said, ‘This couldn’t be right, but I think that’s bone cement in there.’ ”

Quick was ultimately referred to Dr. Jim Youssef, an orthopedic surgeon in Durango, Colo., who spent more than three hours pulling shards from Quick’s spinal canal and immobilizing the area with metal screws.

Youssef has since operated on about 20 other former Schlicht patients from the Alamogordo area, Quick said, but none who had been treated at the VA.

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