Airforce Surgeons make mistakes that cost Airman his Legs

(CBS 11)   Jessica Read is still stunned about what happened to her husband. “It’s very hard for us to understand.”

Last week, 20-year-old Colton Read, who grew up in Arlington and who’s now in the U. S. Air Force, went to have laparoscopic surgery to remove his gall-bladder at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento.

His mother, Shelly Read-Miller says he wasn’t worried. “He said ‘Mom, this is routine, it’s no big deal.'”

But what happened during surgery turned out to be a very big deal. 

Jessica Read says around 10 a.m., about an hour into the procedure, “A nurse runs out, ‘We need blood now,’ and she rounds the corner and my gut feelings is, ‘Oh my God, is that my husband?'”

She says his Air Force general surgeon mistakenly cut her husband’s aortic artery, but waited hours to transport him to a state hospital which has a vascular surgeon. “It took them until 5:30 to get him to UC Davis. I don’t understand.”

Because Read lost so much blood during that time, doctors had to amputate both legs. His mother sobbed, “I watched him take his first steps, and now his legs are gone.”

Read is still in intensive care, and doctors can’t remove his gall bladder for fear of infection.

Now, his wife says they must keep his spirits up because he knows what happened to him. “When we’ve been in there he’ll say, ‘They’re gone,’ and we say, ‘It’s okay though. You made it through the surgery we have your life, thank God.'”

In a statement, Lt. Holly Hess, chief of public affairs at Travis Air Force Base says, “We are conducting an exhaustive review with experts from outside David Grant Medical Center, as well as an internal investigation with the goal of ensuring patient safety and quality care at the center.”

Read’s wife says the doctor admitted it was human error. “All my husband ever wanted to do was to deploy, all my husband ever wanted to do was serve his country. He used to tell me when we had flyovers and they played the national anthem, the chills he would get from the pride that he felt from being an American airman, and this is something an Air Force doctor has taken from him.”

But because of an old federal law called the Feres Doctrine, Read, his wife, and his family members can’t sue the military over what happened to him.

Until last November, retired Lt. Colonel Colby Vokey served in the U. S. Marine Corps for 21 years, the past 11 as a judge advocate, or attorney. “To me, it’s disgraceful.”

Vokey says the original thought behind the law was, “The military would make someone whole. That if you’re hurt in the line of duty, hurt in battle, the military would take care of their own. That’s certainly not the case, and certainly not the case with this young man.”

A bill is pending in congress that would end this law.

For now, Read’s wife says the military may place him on medical retirement, in which he’ll likely receive less than half his $1600 monthly salary. “I can’t understand why they won’t help him when they did this to him.”

Friends who serve with Read at the Ninth Intelligence Squadron at nearby Beale Air Force Base have sent him a get well card.

Jessica says she knows she must keep it altogether. “I’ve made up my mind. I can cry later, because right now he needs me. He needs me to be strong.”

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