David Ortiz underwent a third surgery this week at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he continues to recover more than a month after a shooting ambush in the Dominican Republic, the retired Red Sox slugger’s wife said Thursday.
The announcement and his prolonged hospitalization indicate he suffered severe injuries, according to two trauma surgeons who are not involved in his care. But without knowing the reasons for the surgery, they stressed, it’s hard to assess the gravity of his condition.
“It’s not uncommon to have complications after an abdominal gunshot wound, especially when you damage the GI [gastrointestinal] tract,” said Dr. Peter A. Burke, chief of acute care and trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center. The length of Ortiz’s hospitalization “probably reflects just how badly injured he was in the beginning. It takes a long time for the body to get over that.”
But Dr. Timothy A. Emhoff, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, said he was surprised that Ortiz is still in the hospital.
“Even [with] a life-threatening injury that is repaired and things heal normally, you’re usually out of the hospital within 10 days, two weeks,” Emhoff said. “The fact that he’s still there, requiring multiple surgeries, is concerning — that things are not on a healing trajectory.”
Ortiz’s family and friends have not elaborated about the severity of the injuries, often leaving the impression that he was recovering steadily.
When Ortiz was shot in the back on June 9, the bullet reportedly damaged his small intestine, large intestine, gallbladder, and liver. Doctors in the Dominican Republic reconnected the damaged intestine.
The second surgery took place on the evening of June 10 at Mass. General, where Ortiz was flown and where he continues to recuperate. Mass. General, citing privacy laws, has declined to discuss his care.
And Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany, provided few details.
“Earlier this week, David underwent a third surgery for complications resulting from his gunshot wound,” she said Thursday in a statement released by the Red Sox. “The operation was performed by Dr. David King at Massachusetts General Hospital. David is recovering well and is in good spirits.”
Emhoff, of UMass, said news of surgery is worrisome. “Usually by this time you can manage things nonoperatively,” he said.
But, he added, it’s possible that during Ortiz’s second surgery the night after he was shot, the doctors at Mass. General “set him up for something to be redone at a later date.”
It’s also possible that when his wife said Ortiz had surgery, she was actually referring to a noninvasive procedure. For example, doctors commonly insert tubes through the skin of the abdomen to drain infections.
But if doctors reopened his abdomen in an unplanned operation, the situation would be “much more dangerous,” Emhoff said. The surgeon would have faced an extremely difficult task, navigating scar tissue and inflammation that distort the anatomy, he said.
Ortiz’s continuing struggles show that surviving a gunshot wound involves more than staying alive, Emhoff said.
“Most of the time when people get shot, they don’t get killed but there is a large price to pay in recovery,” he said. “Gunshot wounds to the abdomen cause havoc that sometimes takes a year to ultimately get resolved.”
Burke, of Boston Medical Center, said it’s hard to speculate on exactly what is going on with Ortiz because every gunshot wound and every patient is different.
Infection was the biggest worry in the first days after the attack, and it remains a risk even weeks later, Burke said. When the intestine breaks open, it spills contaminants into the abdominal cavity. Doctors typically irrigate the abdomen to clear it out and prescribe antibiotics.
But those measures often aren’t enough.
The seam where the bowel was reconnected can leak bacteria into the abdomen. If that happens, doctors would have to open up the patient to repair it, he said.
Even in the absence of a leak, an infection can persist inside, Burke said. In such cases, doctors insert catheters to drain the infection.
In her statement, Tiffany Ortiz said, “We continue to be incredibly appreciative of the kindness and compassion shown to David and to our entire family during this difficult time.”
Her statement was later posted to her personal Instagram account, and users responded with messages of encouragement.
At least 14 suspects are in custody in the Dominican Republic on charges stemming from the shooting of Ortiz in a patio area of the Dial Bar and Lounge.
Authorities initially said the suspects targeted Ortiz in a contract killing but later reversed course, telling reporters the intended target was actually a man named Sixto David Fernández, who was seated near Ortiz during the shooting.
That claim was met with broad skepticism in the Dominican Republic, where Ortiz is a revered national hero and among the most widely recognized people in the country.
Authorities maintain that Fernández’s cousin, Victor Hugo Gomez Vasquez, was the mastermind of the plot and wanted Fernández dead for betraying him to police several years ago, leading to his arrest in 2011.
Gomez Vasquez, in a seven-minute video made before his arrest, denied any involvement with the Ortiz shooting. In the video, which was obtained by the Globe and widely shared on Dominican media, Gomez Vasquez said he “would never do something like that.”