Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures performed and is reputed to be among the safest. But six patients who had routine cataract surgery in South Florida say it cost them all or some of their sight.
Zoraida Oquendo spends most of her time at home now taking care of her grandchildren. She had to stop driving and struggles with simple tasks after something went wrong with a routine procedure – outpatient cataract surgery.
"When I get home I got a lot of pain, like you take a needle and push in," Oquendo said.
Coral Gables Surgery Center is where Oquendo went to have her left cataract removed by Dr. Jonathan Leon-Rosen. Instead of improving her vision she lost it.
"She was seeing before the operation so it's just now that she can’t see, it’s ridiculous. You know, it's heartbreaking," said her son, Jeff Oquendo.
Zoraida Oquendo is one of six plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Coral Gables Surgery Center and Dr. Leon-Rosen, alleging the patients suffered an eye injury, vision loss and a syndrome known as TASS, which causes swelling of the cornea.
This allegedly happened after the plaintiffs had cataract surgery with Leon-Rosen at the Coral Gables Surgery Center on different days in September.
"It's bothersome that it happened on repeated episodes, repeated days, and that it wasn't caught the first time, so that other patients had to undergo the same tragedy," said Oquendo's attorney, Gary Friedman.
Oquendo said the doctor did offer an explanation.
"The last time I went to see him he said the medicine is no good," she said.
Oquendo added that she was told, "Something’s wrong with the medicine – the medicine they put in the eyes."
Oquendo and another patient's surgical reports state that "a mixture of non-preserved antibiotic and steroid solution was irrigated into … the eye," but the reports do not mention any problems with that medication.
NBC 6 tried to reach Coral Gables Surgery Center administrator James Seymour, but he would only comment through an email statement.
"We are investigating an incident involving the limited use of an antibiotic on a small group of patients. We are monitoring the situation, and, as always, we continue to pursue our mission of providing excellent care for our patients," Seymour’s statement said.
Dr. Leon-Rosen works out of South Florida Eye Associates in Coral Gables. An attorney for the surgeon and the practice said they could comment.
"We have different amounts of visual loss and we have different recommendations including some have even been recommended corneal transplant surgery," Friedman said.
The Team 6 Investigators have learned of other clusters of cases of TASS following cataract surgery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight cases of TASS followed surgery at a Maine hospital in 2006.
In addition, a nationwide outbreak in 2005 was caused by a contaminated irrigating solution. Oquendo’s lawyer says that may also be the cause of the Coral Gables cluster.
So what agency is keeping track of these South Florida cases? None.
TASS does not have to be reported to the Department of Health. And medication errors or problems don't have to be reported to the Food and Drug Administration.