After waiting more than a year for surgery, an Edmonton teen is forced to undergo the same operation twice after his surgeon became ill halfway through the procedure.

CBC News investigates  ​

"I don't think it's fair for anybody to go through this. It's so painful and it's so shocking — I feel like — why should he go through this pain twice?" Fatima Sadiq says about her son's experience.

Experts say this is another example of a health system that is so disorganized it can't handle unexpected problems.

On Jan. 22, 18-year-old Farouq Sadiq went into Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert, just northwest of Edmonton, for day surgery to repair a shoulder injury he suffered playing sports. His shoulder is unstable and at risk of dislocating without the surgery.

Hassan and Fatima Sadiq

Hassan and Fatima Sadiq say their son is starting to heal after the first surgery, but will be cut open again to complete the procedure. (CBC)

Everything went according to plan — at least at the beginning.

"The last thing I remember was being wheeled into the operating room, after they gave me the anesthetic," Sadiq told Go Public.

When he woke up, his arm was in a sling and bandages covered three incisions in his shoulder.

"I thought it was done," he recalls.

It wasn't. Nurses told him the surgeon got sick in the middle of the operation and couldn't continue out of concern a mistake could be made.

The hospital discharged Sadiq, telling him the surgery would be scheduled "sometime" in the future.

"The hospital should have got someone else to continue [the] operation. If they can't get someone immediately, as soon as possible get someone to complete the operation, not just send Farouq home," his mother says.

The surgeon's office told the family the earliest the teen could get back into the operating room was mid-February.

Farouq Sadiq

Farouq Sadiq checks out his bandaged shoulder where three incisions were made and then closed after his surgeon became dizzy during the operation. (CBC)

In the meantime, his parents say the university student has missed some school, he's living in pain from the partial procedure, and will have to go through it all again. They say they just want to have the surgery done and behind them.

"It wasn't as if he [Farouq] was incapacitated with his shoulder. He was his normal self. How could you open him up then ask us to go and then come back in a few weeks?" father Hassan Sadiq says.

The surgeon later told the family he had the flu earlier that week, was feeling better on the day of the operation but had to stop the procedure after he started feeling dizzy.

Hospital expresses 'sincere regret'

The family said it doesn't blame the doctor, but the system for failing to react in Sadiq's best interest.

Go Public put the family's concerns to Dr. Curtis Johnston, the associate zone medical director responsible for the Sturgeon Community Hospital.

"I'd like to express sincere regret that this happened and an apology to the patient and the family for any undue pain and suffering. Certainly it was never intended that anything like this would happen and I think all those involved feel very saddened by this happening," Johnston says.

Dr. Curtis Johnston

Dr. Curtis Johnston, who is responsible for the hospital where the incident happened, says it is rare that a surgeon would stop mid-surgery because of illness. (CBC)

He says it is extremely rare that a surgeon would have to stop mid-procedure due to illness. 

Johnston says he can't talk about specific cases, but in general, the hospital would look for another surgeon to take over in cases where surgeries are cancelled or an operation is interrupted. 

If another surgeon can't be found, the hospital would try and reschedule quickly, but that's not always possible.

"We make every effort to find a date that works well for the patient as soon as possible in order to complete the procedure and finish what we started. The scheduling arrangements would be made in combination with our scheduling staff and the physicians involved to try and schedule in a timely fashion," he says.

After our inquires, an offer was made to move the second surgery date forward.

Original surgeon backs out

The family also got a call and letter from the surgeon with an apology after Go Public got involved.

The surgeon says he won't be the one doing the procedure this time — he's passing the case on to a colleague — saying by taking the story and concerns public, there was a "violation of trust."

Michael Decter, chair of the national advocacy group Patients Canada and a Harvard-trained economist who is considered an expert on health systems, says patients are often traumatized in the health system.

Michael Decter

Michael Decter, chair of the national advocacy group Patients Canada, says the idea of going through surgery twice can be distressing for patients and their families. (CBC)

"They are not only worried about the outcome but surgeries are invasive, [they] involve anesthetic ... so the idea of having to go though it twice is quite distressing for patients and their families," he says.

Decter compares the health-care system to the airline industry, saying  travellers can check flight times and delays but patients waiting for surgery are mostly kept in the dark until the last minute.

"It's more organizational than resources. It's not getting the system organized well enough around the patient to ensure it's getting done," he says.  

Dionne Aleman and her University of Toronto colleagues study how Canadian hospitals schedule surgeries and the impact on patients. 

"When you have your surgery postponed, you end up in the twilight zone — you're floating around. You don't know what's going to happen, you don't know how soon you'll be able to be rescheduled," she says.

System can't absorb 'lightning strike' events

Her research found a lot of hospitals will schedule operating room time according to surgeon seniority and that many operations are slotted for mid-week instead of taking advantage of quieter times like Fridays or weekends. 

Aleman and her colleagues have developed a mathematical formula they believe will make scheduling more efficient, lead to shorter waits for patients and make a big difference in the system's ability to deal with unexpected emergencies.

Dionne Aleman

University of Toronto health policy researcher Dionne Aleman says the health system can't absorb unexpected and rare occurrences. (University of Toronto)

"An important thing to recognize is that exceptionally rare events like a surgery being cancelled mid-surgery — it's not necessarily practical to plan for that, because it's so rare it's like a lightning strike," Aleman says.

"The thing to do in my opinion, is to build a system that is in general robust and efficient so that when these blips do happen, the system can absorb them and everything can move on without any great inconvenience to the patient."

Hospitals track the number of cancelled surgeries differently. The Canadian Institute For Health Information does track the number of cancelled surgeries across the country, but only those procedures that were cancelled after a patient was admitted to hospital.

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