Florida

Florida surgeon faces hundreds of lawsuits after alleged mistakes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Documents from a wrongful death lawsuit sheds new light on the alleged malpractice of a Jacksonville doctor who NBC reported has caused “hundreds of injuries” and is the subject of 350 lawsuits, with 100 more expected by the end of the year.

Former patients and their proxies claim in these suits that the Jacksonville hospital the doctor worked at ignored complaints about his malpractice.

The plaintiff is Anthony Bonk, on behalf of his late wife, Lucinda Bonk, who the suit claims died while under Dr. R. David Heekin’s knife. The case is being brought against Heekin, his clinic, Heekin Clinic LLC., and the hospital he operated out of, Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital.

Anthony Bonk is seeking damages under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act and asking for a jury trial to decide the verdict in the case.

A wrongful death case is a personal injury lawsuit, meaning if found “guilty,” the defendant must pay out but does not risk criminal charges or jail time.

According to Bonk’s lawsuit, St. Vincent’s billed “multiple millions of dollars in revenue from the surgeries performed by Heekin over the years.”

In newly obtained court filings, St. Vincent’s denied the allegations and said if any negligence occurred, it was beyond their control and the sole responsibility of Dr. Heekin and his clinic.

The hospital also challenged whether the statute of limitations has expired in some cases and labeled some allegations as “immaterial, scandalous and irrelevant.”

Heekin allegedly had a neurological disease

A 37-page filing in the Bonk case claims that Heekin had a neurological disease that “severely and significantly impaired” his ability to “competently and safely practice medicine, especially performing complex orthopedic surgeries on patients.”

NBC has reported that Heekin had progressive supranuclear palsy, which the Mayo Clinic describes as an uncommon brain disorder that causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movements.

According to documents, Heekin “committed hundreds of medical errors” from 2016 to 2020, when he stopped working at St. Vincent’s.

The lawsuit says this illness caused Heekin “debilitating impairment and problems with communication, ambulation, balance, coordination, fine motor skills, eye contact, markedly diminished motor skills, material loss of cognitive ability, and involuntary movements. He also exhibited impulse control and impaired judgement.”

During one surgery, he allegedly was “observed by other healthcare providers having difficulty keeping his eyes open.” Lawsuit documents say there were “multiple occasions” Heekin had to be “reminded what had to be done in surgical procedures.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Jeff Mathison, the acting Chief Medical Officer at the time that Heekin worked at St. Vincent’s, knew of his condition and did not act on this knowledge.

On Sept. 8, 2018, 18 days before Lucinda Bonk’s death, one family says they told Mathinson that they had observed Heekin showing “slurred speech, uncontrollable shaking and an outburst of anger at one of the nursing staff.”

And almost exactly a year later, on Sept.19, 2019, the lawsuit claims that when Heekin arrived to perform a surgery, “the patient refused to allow him to perform said procedure because he was so severely impaired… slurring his words and exhibiting significant balance and gait issues.”

Dr. Mathison, the suit claims, knew about this incident.

Heekin stopped performing surgeries for a short time, according to these documents, but came back in early October “as if nothing ever happened.”

“Devastating injuries”

On Sep. 24, 2018, Anthony Bonk’s attorney says Heekin was performing hip surgery on a patient — Lucinda Bonk — and “caused a shaft fracture in the femur and the patient went into cardiopulmonary arrest.”

Anthony Bonk is alleging that the anesthesia machine was not working properly during the surgery and “failed to capture a significant number of vital signs and stats.”

Lucinda Bonk was taken to the ICU and died later that day. Her death certificate lists her cause of death as “complications of intertrochanteric femur fracture.”

The lawsuit claims that Heekin went on to perform more surgeries that same day.

During one surgery that day, the lawsuit says Heekin “implanted (a) femoral component approximately 90 degrees anteverted, meaning the hardware was in the wrong direction.”

He was frequently accused of mispositioning hardware, though not always this severely, documents show. Several cases like this are listed in the lawsuit, along with what Anthony Bonk’s attorneys say are just some examples of hundreds of devastating injuries caused by Heekin.

Other cases listed include fractures, ruptured tendons, severed tendons, nerve damage, dislocations, infections and complications that continued long after surgery.

According to the lawsuit, he caused deformities, caused one patient to not be able to lift his foot, and caused patients to need multiple subsequent surgeries — including one patient who required eight more surgeries after seeing Heekin.

One claim says that on November 13, 2018, Heekin inserted screws in someone’s femur “well-through the bone and out the other side.”.

Another example listed in Anthony Bonk’s lawsuit says that on Jan. 27, 2020, Heekin “performed a total knee replacement and the patient suffered such a significant infection that she nearly had to have her leg amputated.”

And none of it was reflected on written reports. Whenever a mistake was made or a crisis occured, Bonk’s attorneys claim Heekin did not include it in his written reports. He also documented things incorrectly, allegedly confusing a knee replacement for a hip replacement in one report.

A former patient spoke to First Coast News about his experience with a botched knee replacement, saying he was  “worse than (he) was before (he) went to him.” Read more here.

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