Investigates: New complaints against Texas spine surgeon
New complaints have been filed with the Texas Medical Board against a North Texas spine surgeon.
More of his former patients are reporting that the doctor they all trusted ruined their backs and their lives.
"I'm a licensed realtor and I have been since 1990," June Ferbstein of McKinney said. And at 84-years-old, she says she still works, just not showing houses. That's because she's wheelchair bound and in constant pain since her first back surgery in 2011.
According to her complaint filed with the Texas Medical Board, that's when Dr. Stephen Courtney of Plano first put five levels of hardware in her back to relieve her pain. She says a year later, Courtney operated again, this time inserting a surgical device made by his own company.
Courtney labeled it the "Boa Constrictor."
"When he put all of this titanium in I think that's what did the majority of the damage," Ferbstein said. She says her eyes were opened by a WFAA investigation into Dr. Courtney last May.
"But it touched me to the point that I felt I had to come forward," she said.
In the first report, WFAA revealed the stories about three former patients who have sued Courtney. Two of them claim Courtney performed repeated operations using his own implants, one called the "Python" in alleged violation of FDA standards.
Another lawsuit was filed by the family of Steven Pennington of Royce City. He died during a back surgery two years ago. His family is suing Courtney.
Since that story, other former patients have contacted WFAA. "He needs to be stopped, he really needs to be stopped," Teri Baker, a former Plano resident, said.
Baker sued Courtney in 2003, alleging he operated on her back three times in nine months. During one surgery, according to the suit, he placed a surgical screw in the wrong bone causing additional injury.
"My pain level is between a 9 and a 10 every single day," she said. Baker says her lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed.
Another former patient, Vickie Kersch of Arizona, has also filed a complaint with the Texas Medical Board.
"The pain, all the way from headaches, migraines, cvg headaches," Kersch said. She says in her complaint that Courtney performed five surgeries on her including one fusion that failed,"collapsing and causing more spinal cord damage."
In April, a Mayo Clinic doctor "recommended not touching the fusion as it is too dangerous given its location."
"I thought that this was rubbing up against my back," Barbara Gallagher said. Gallagher says she used to be active and an avid outdoors person. She says her back operation in 2014 went so badly that Courtney re-operated, removing the plates and screws. In a complaint filed with the Texas Medical Board, Gallagher says her new doctor told her "the original fusion surgery should not have been performed" and then "the metal should not have been removed because it left her back unstable."
"I'd just rather die at this point because I just can't live with this pain," she said.
Dr. Courtney has not responded to WFAA's repeated requests for comment. His attorney, William Dunnill, responded in writing with the following statement:
"Dr. Courtney is one of the region’s most respected and honored spinal surgeons, with an exemplary record of success. A variety of circumstances affects the outcome of each surgery, and without the patient’s consent and signed waiver we cannot legally or ethically comment on the details of an individual case."
"We welcome review by the court and/or the Texas Medical Board of Dr. Courtney’s medical skills and approach to patient care, based upon the evidence. While we are bound by statutes and rules of confidentiality, we believe that proper review of Dr. Courtney’s care and treatment, based upon the evidence, will consistently reveal that Dr. Courtney provided reasonable care and treatment, exercised technical proficiency, and utilized appropriate hardware in performing these highly complex procedures."
Ferbstein hopes changes will follow.
"There's not that much that can be done for me. I will never walk again," Ferbstein said.
Dr. Courtney asked WFAA if all former patients would grant permission for him to discuss their cases individually with WFAA. However, all four declined for privacy reasons.