Dr. James Chappuis sues Emory Healthcare, surgeon alleging defamation: 6 details


An Atlanta-based spine surgeon filed a lawsuit on July 29 against Emory Healthcare and Daniel Refai, MD.


Six things to know:

1. James Chappuis, MD, the founder and owner of SpineCenterAtlanta, sued Dr. Refai and Emory Healthcare alleging defamation occurred more than a year ago. In March 2019, Dr. Chappuis performed an outpatient anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at Atlanta Orthopedic Surgery Center; the patient developed fluid collection and impinged cord at C3 to C5 levels of the spine.

2. Dr. Chappuis performed a second procedure and removed plates, screws and the interbody graft at C3-C4 and C4-C5 before noticing cerebrospinal fluid. He performed a partial corpectomy at C3-C4 and patched the leak. The patient continued to report issues and was taken to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and underwent additional observation.

3. The patient's condition and motor function improved. By May 6, the patient's upper extremity neurologic function improved, according to the lawsuit, and he planned to have her transferred to another care facility.

However, on May 7 Dr. Chappuis received notification that the patient no longer wanted his treatment and Dr. Refai took over her case. Dr. Refai proceeded to perform another surgery on the patient on May 9 and after emerging from the procedure she was a quadriplegic.

4. Dr. Chappuis alleges Dr. Refai provided the patient with "false and defamatory information" about her care and then published the false allegations among other members of the hospital staff.

5. Dr. Refai also allegedly sent information to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a repository of reports containing information on malpractice, that incorrectly characterized the initial procedure Dr. Chappuis performed.

The report to NPDB also states that Dr. Refai found a suture needle left in the patient from previous procedures; Dr. Chappuis maintains in the lawsuit that his team accounted for all needles and sponges after the procedures were performed and none of the imaging scans performed on the patient after the initial procedures showed a needle.

6. The lawsuit also alleges the Emory Peer Review Committee engaged in efforts to review the decision to perform the initial surgeries at the outpatient surgical center, a competing entity. Dr. Chappuis believes the peer review has a conflict of interest in the matter. During the investigation, Dr. Chappuis was suspended from the hospital on a precautionary basis. He resigned his privileges on May 19, 2019.

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