OCTOBER 14, 2014
“Fresno Heart Surgeon Sues Man For Defamation”
Pablo Lopez, FRESNO BEE
A prominent Fresno heart surgeon who’s accused of leaving an open-heart surgery before his patient’s chest was closed is suing the person who told state investigators about the alleged incident that resulted in a $75,000 fine to Community Regional Medical Center. In his lawsuit, Dr. Pervaiz Chaudhry says James Robillard wasn’t even in the operating room when Silvino Perez’s chest was closed.
He contends Robillard made the entire thing up in order to defame him and ruin his reputation.
He is suing Robillard and his Clovis company, Perfusion Associates of California, for more than $25 million in damages. Robillard did not return a telephone call to comment.
The civil lawsuit, filed last week in Fresno County Superior Court, accuses Robillard of slander, libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Chaudhry says Robillard’s statements to state investigators have cost him millions of dollars in revenue for him and his partners at Valley Cardiac Surgery Medical Group.
He is being represented by Brian C. Leighton, a Clovis attorney who prevailed in a major case against the CIA in 2009 and has gained a reputation for challenging federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A civil suit represents one side in a dispute.
In the lawsuit, Leighton contends Robillard intentionally made false statements against Chaudhry because he believed Chaudhry wanted Robilland’s company to lose its contract with CRMC to provide perfusion services. A perfusionist is a health care professional who operates a heart-lung machine during cardiac surgery and other surgeries that require cardiopulmonary bypass. Leighton said this week that Chaudhry actually liked Robillard’s work. But because of Robillard, Leighton said, “the Valley is about to lose one of the top five thoracic surgeons in the nation.”
Chaudhry made headlines in January when Perez’s family accused him of leaving the operating room — and CRMC — before completing an open-heart procedure on Perez, who was having the operation to repair an ascending aortic aneurysm. The suit contends Chaudhry left an unqualified physician assistant to close Perez’s chest. Because it was not done properly, Perez’s heart stopped, he continued to bleed and lose oxygen, and he had to be put on life support.
Since the operation, Perez, 73, has been in a vegetative state in a nursing home, according San Francisco attorney Jeff Mitchell, who sued Chaudhry on behalf of Perez’s wife, Maria A. Arteaga Alvarez, and stepson Cristobal Arteaga of Sanger.
In the wake of Perez’s lawsuit, at least two other people have sued Chaudhry, accusing him walking out of the operating room before procedures were complete — and that hospital officials knew about it.
A hospital spokeswoman said Monday that Chaudhry still has privileges to do surgeries at CRMC.
Leighton said Robillard’s name appeared in documents from the state investigation that lawyers had subpoenaed. In the documents, the lawyers learned that Community Regional was fined $75,000 by state regulators in October last year for the Perez case.
The documents also quote Chaudhry as admitting he left the operating room at 11:30 a.m. before the chest was closed. But the interviewer notes in the subpoenaed documents say Chaudhry left the operating room after Perez’s chest was closed, Leighton said.
State investigators did a shoddy investigation, Leighton said, because they didn’t interview everyone in the operating room, including the surgeon who assisted Chaudhry and the anesthesiologist assigned to the Perez’s operation, Leighton said. If they had, they would have found out that Chaudhry remained in the room until after the surgery was completed and then supervised the closure of Perez’s chest by the assistant surgeon and physician assistant, “all according to protocol and routine,” Leighton said.