Mary Jeanne Altieri had surgery on her right shoulder in 2005 to repair a torn rotator cuff but said the pain never subsided. Her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Spyros Panos, prescribed medication, physical therapy and eventually, another surgery.
Altieri, now 65, worked as a receptionist in the same medical office as Panos in Dutchess County New York for more than eight years. Their families knew each other. She described him as a wonderful person and friend and said she completely trusted him as a doctor. So when he recommended the second surgery in 2009, she said she never questioned it.
But when Altieri's pain worsened she sought a second opinion, and then another. The third doctor told her that he was able to explain why her shoulder wasn't getting better: Panos had never operated on it, she said.
"I felt betrayed. I felt anger," Altieri said, recalling her emotions when she was informed of the alleged nonexistent surgery. "And I felt so stupid for not being more aware of what was going on."
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Experts say that unless another doctor uncovers the telltale signs of a previous surgery – or lack thereof – it is nearly impossible for a patient to know whether a surgery has actually occurred. Even other medical professionals who are in the room at the time of surgery can't always say with certainty that the surgeon has performed an intended procedure.