CBC Investigates

Prominent B.C. surgeon accused of 'arrogance,' lying in wrongful death lawsuit

A lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges one of the province's top thoracic surgeons was negligent during a fatal 2017 operation—then tried to conceal the cause of death from both the patient's family and health authorities.

Civil claim alleges Dr. Reuben James Bond 'intentionally misinformed' patient’s family about cause of death

Stephen Burnstad, 51, died in January 2017 shortly after surgery for a form of stomach cancer. (Burnstad family)

A lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges one of the province's top thoracic surgeons was negligent during a fatal 2017 operation — then tried to conceal the cause of death from both the patient's family and health authorities.

The civil action against Dr. Reuben James Bond has been launched by the wife and two sons of Stephen Douglas Burnstad, who lived in Kamloops, B.C.

The lawsuit claims Bond acted in "a high-handed and arrogant fashion" as Burnstad lay bleeding to death internally on the operating table.

Burnstad was 51 years old when he died at Surrey Memorial hospital in January 2017.

Norma Burnstad says her late husband gave her a kiss and told her, 'I'll see you later,' shortly before his surgery. (Tristan Le Rudulier, CBC)

"Every day is hard," says his widow, Norma Burnstad, 53.

"I thought we would grow old together. Be able to see our grandchildren and travel…just the two of us again. And it was just ripped right out."

Bond is the chief of thoracic surgery for the Fraser Health Authority and Surrey Memorial hospital. He's also a surgeon with the Surrey Thoracic Surgery Group and is a clinical associate professor at the University of B.C.

Bond: 'No comment'

Reached by CBC News while on vacation in Europe, Bond said he had "no comment on this confidential case." He has yet to file a legal defence.

A court date has not been set, and none of the allegations has been proven in court.

The defendant in the lawsuit, Dr. Reuben James Bond, is chief of thoracic surgery for the Fraser Health Authority and Surrey Memorial hospital. (BCthoracicsurgery.com)

Wife told 'I'll see you later'

Burnstad was a well-known project manager for a Kamloops glass company, who worked on landmark B.C. projects including the Vancouver convention centre, the Nordstrom department store redevelopment and the expansion of Vancouver International Airport.

In September 2016, he was diagnosed with gastric carcinoid tumours, a form of stomach cancer.

Four months later, Burnstad went into surgery.

"He was very positive," says his widow. "He was walking into the O.R. and gave me a kiss, and goes, 'Okay, I'll see you later.'"

That was the last time she would see her husband alive.

Condition declined

Bond performed a gastrectomy, the complete removal of Burnstad's stomach, and reconstructed the man's gastrointestinal tract.

The lawsuit claims within minutes of the surgery, Burnstad's condition began to decline and Bond was called back to the operating theatre.

"Tests…revealed the most likely cause of cause of (Burnstad's) condition was intra-abdominal bleeding, which was likely caused by (Bond's) surgical error," alleges the lawsuit, "yet (Bond) failed or refused to accept or consider the advice of other competent and skilled physicians or medical professionals" who were in the operating room.

According to the civil claim, Burnstad died approximately 90 minutes later "from massive hemorrhaging."

"(Bond) failed or refused to provide the necessary medical interventions that would have saved (his patient's) life," states the civil claim.

Stephen Burnstad (far right) with his family in Kamloops. (Burnstad Family)

Bond 'misinformed' family, coroner: lawsuit

The lawsuit makes other allegations.

It claims the thoracic surgeon "intentionally misinformed" the family about the cause of Burnstad's death, "advising them he had died as a result of the heart attack, rather than as a result of surgical error or intra-abdominal bleeding," and "misinformed the coroner…in an attempt to prevent the coroner from investigating and reporting the cause of death."

When "investigations into the circumstances of Burnstad's death and Bond's conduct" were launched by the Fraser Health Authority and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., the civil action alleges Bond "continued to provide misinformation about the cause of Stephen's death throughout both investigations," and "reported false information to and placed undue influence upon other medical professionals to conceal his negligence."

Neither the College nor the Fraser Health Authority would comment on the case.

The civil action seeks unspecified punitive and aggravated damages.

But Norma Burnstad says it's not all about the money.

"It's about awareness. It's about my boys. It's also about Stephen," she says, fighting back emotion.

"I believe he didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve to die at 51. He put all of his trust in the doctor. And the doctor let him down."

Read more from CBC British Columbia

About the Author

Eric Rankin

Investigative journalist

Eric Rankin is an award-winning CBC reporter. His honours include the 2018 Canadian Screen Award for Best Local Reportage, the 2017 and 2015 RTDNA awards for Best In-depth/Investigative Reporting, and the 2009 Jack Webster award for Best News Reporting.