"No  Good  Deed  Goes  Unpunished"

 

In a last ditch effort to save a Russian boy, on Oct. 3, 2006, Dr. Francel very generously volunteered to provided a free brain surgery for the stricken teen at St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City.  Prior to that, the boy's family had waited for months in Russia and the boy became quite debilitated by the time he arrived in Oklahoma City. The family had considered surgery in Russia first.  Because of the boy's reluctance to have the surgery as he was warned it might affect his motor skills and he would have a big scar on his head, it was put off from March 7 to August in Russia.

Finally, the father and boy came to Oklahoma City for the free surgery.  The surgery was quite risky as is any brain stem surgery.  It appeared to be a success, with the tumor being removed.   It was a golf ball sized tumor called a pilocytic astrocytoma.  However, despite skilled, compassionate care by Dr. Francel and many others, the boy succumbed to meningitis and eventually  slipped into a coma and became brain dead. After several months his heart stopped.    

The Tulsa World on Jan. 14, 2009 reported that Dr. Francel believed that the boy eventually succumbed to an infection he had been battling since before the surgery.  Also, Dr. Francel felt the boy was in a weakened state before the surgery.

He had lost about 80 pounds due to the illness prior to coming to the U.S. for surgery.  The author theorized it could be due to the months of delay coming to the U.S. from Russia.  Also, the paragraph below reports the tumor can affect swallowing and appetite.

The Tulsa World reported on Jan. 14, 2009, "Doctors in Moscow had discovered a tumor that had wrapped around the boy's brain stem, crowding the portion that controls involuntary body functions such as balance, swallowing and appetite."  

A March 17, 2007 article in Newsok.com the parents were told by Dr. Francel "there was a 50 percent chance he could die in surgery, and if he survived surgery there was an additional chance he could die." 

According to Dr. Francel in the Oklahoman on March 16, 2007, " the irony is that the boy's surgery went well. We did an expert job. The whole team did a very good job. He said an outside peer review came to the same conclusion." 

Newsok.com on Feb. 14, 2009, stated, that despite being declared brain dead Nov. 27, 2006 the boy's father insisted that the boy be given complete life support care in the ICU until the boy's heart stopped 7 months later on June 20, 2007. 

According to the Oklahoman, St. Anthony provided free room and board for more than 150 days for the boy's father.  They provided free long distance phone calls. Employees donated money to the family in Russia after hearing from him they were suffering financially.

All the boy's care was provided free of charge at the hospital in hopes of giving the boy a normal life.  Also, on June 30, 2007 Newsok.com reported that  St. Anthony Hospital paid for the flight home for the father and the boy and helped with the arrangements.  They also offered to pay for an independent autopsy, but that was refused.

Also, regarding translations for the Russian father, the Oklahoman reported on March 16, 2007, "The hospital has worked with numerous translators, some chosen by the father, some hired by the hospital," hospital officials said. "To date, almost 2,000 hours of translation services have been used. It is believed that proper translation processes have been used."

On January 20, 2009 MSNBC was quoted as saying "But removing the boy's type of tumor comes with a high probability of complications, said David Schiff, co-director of the Neuro-Oncology Center at the University of Virginia. It's not uncommon for patients with brain stem tumors to require feeding tubes or experience double vision while in recovery. The brain stem is very high-priced real estate."  I (the author) am not sure what that last statement means, but think it means that it is a very difficult, risky place to operate.

Then, predictably following the boy's death, after being counseled by an attorney or attorneys, the father sued our good Samaritan, the surgeon, Dr. Francel, who did everything he could to try to save the young man.   What is wrong with this picture, I ask you?  We begin to get the feeling we can't help anyone any more for fear it may backfire on us and we will get sued.  That is a sad state of affairs for our country, indeed.

Several people have quoted me the following saying when they heard this story, "no good deed goes unpunished."  I think that is what we have here.  We have a very good man who did everything in his power to help a boy with a terminal condition.  Dr. Francel loves children and does everything he can to help them.  He poured out his heart and soul and mind to help the boy and when things did not work out as hoped, he was crucified for it in the press and by the boy's father with the lawsuit. 

There are 6 things I would like to emphasize here:

First, I would like to repeat, as the title above says, these are my own personal thoughts on this case.  I am basing those thoughts and beliefs on what I have had read and heard about the case in the media.  I have not had any access to medical records or been present when any events happened.  Also, I am speaking to what I believe to be the personal convictions, beliefs, skills, training, and ethics of Dr. Francel.  In addition, please note that I purposely omitted the names of the Russian boy and his father in this story to protect their privacy. 

Second, I have known Dr. Francel for almost 17 years.  We have had a number of discussions about his beliefs.  In all my years of knowing him and the way he goes about his work, I know he would only have taken a free case like that because of extreme compassion for the boy in hopes of saving his life.  He is one of the most caring, inspiring Christians I have ever met.  I know, generally speaking, a brain stem tumor is pretty much a death sentence.  I have no doubt Dr. Francel did the very best he possibly could removing the tumor and I believe the surgery part was successful.  He was very well trained by some of the best neurosurgeons in the world: Dr. Vinko Dolenc, Dr. John A. Jane, and Dr. Ladislau Steiner. 

I believe Dr. Francel is a person who always tries to "autograph his work with excellence."  Here are a few examples I know about personally.  He saved the life of my husband who was called by other doctors inoperable and terminal from a large, brain tumor in the cavernous sinus of his brain, in the middle of his head.  It was in one of the most inaccessible locations in the brain.

He also saved several friends and acquaintances from epilepsy,  an acoustic neuroma with the gamma knife, and two meningiomas.  He enabled a friend to walk who was in a wheel chair for over 10 years with Dystonia, relieved a man from an arachnoid cyst, repaired severe back problems with a Pro-disc, corrected debilitating symptoms by curing a Chiari I malformation, relieved pain and disability of spinal stenosis, and saved an elderly man from a severe head injury from a fall on the ice. These cases are all described in this website (see the Homepage for links to the stories).

Third, I know Dr. Francel well enough to say that he would never in a million years use a boy as a guinea pig for experimentation or do substandard work below acceptable medical standards, or do the work just for publicity as has been claimed by the boy's father.  Personally, I feel those claims are an outrage.  Dr. Francel's mind just does not go down any paths like that.  He graduated Magna cum Laude from Harvard in 3 years getting his bachelor's degree. Who among us could have done that?  He spent 7 years attending medical school in Chicago getting both his M.D. and Ph.D.  After spending several years on his neurosurgery residency, he spent one more year studying children's neurosurgery because of his compassion to help children. 

Dr. Francel and his wife have taught children's Sunday School for 8 years. He has helped out with the Boy Scouts.  He has devoted his life to helping children and adults.  He has always strived for excellence and perfection in his work.  He was constantly looking for new and better ways to help his patients. 

Dr. Francel and the hospital went the extra mile a hundred times over to take as good a care of the Russian boy as humanly possible.  It was tragic the boy died and I am very sorry for the parents' loss, but I personally do not believe Dr. Francel  and the hospital were at fault.  We all know that not every surgery is a total success.  As I said earlier, an outside peer review cleared Dr. Francel of all wrong doing.  I believe Dr. Francel and St. Anthony were not the enemy.  The brain tumor was.  Dr. Francel and St. Anthony were the compassionate people trying to save the boy.

Fourth, we all know we have to sign a consent form for a medical procedure and we are warned of all the many things that could possibly go wrong--a long list of them.  We agree and sign our name.  Then, if one of those numerous things does occur many people immediately and conveniently "forget" they have agreed to the procedure with all its risks.  All they can think about then is suing.  Their eyes light up with dollar signs.   They want to profit from the unfortunate situation.  Their attorney wants to profit from it too.  He/she is in the business of making money, of course, just like the rest of us.  And in this case, I am sure the Russian man signed the consent form for his son to have the surgery while being informed of the risks.  No surgery would be done without it.  Unfortunately in this country, more and more we appear to have become a "GET RICH QUICK SOCIETY."  Not only do we expect perfection at all times from people, we immediately think LAWSUIT if it doesn't meet our expectations.

Fifth, I would like to state here that I am definitely not anti-attorney in general.  Many, if not most, are out there to just make an honest living and are caring people trying to help others.   I know of many like that.  There are some though that prey on unfortunate situations to make money for themselves.

Sixth, I think we will all ponder the next time when a case comes up where the good people of our country could try to help a desperate medical patient from another country, and they decide not to, for fear of possible reprisals and lawsuits.  Sadly, the cost would be too high and the fear too great.  And who loses then? Everyone does--the patient, the family, and the medical people and others who would have been blessed by helping someone in need.

Update on this lawsuit:  According to the public record, the case was closed August 10, 2009. It never went to court.  My research did not show any wrong doing by Dr. Francel in this case. This agreed with his outside peer review of the Russian Boy's case.

 

Nancy Allen

 

Personal thoughts shared and information compiled by

Nancy Allen.

 

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