FORT MYERS, Fla. - Red Sox relief pitcher Bobby Jenks said yesterday that an error during his surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital resulted in his needing emergency surgery in Arizona 18 days later.
The result could leave the righthander unable to pitch this season and has again raised questions about the team’s medical care.
Jenks’s comments, and the possibility of a lawsuit, have put two venerable Boston institutions in an awkward position. The Red Sox want to support their player but also have a longstanding business relationship with the hospital.
Jenks had spinal decompression surgery Dec. 12 that was expected to correct a back condition that led to him twice being placed on the disabled list last season. Dr. Kirkham Wood, chief of MGH’s orthopedic spine service, performed the surgery.
“I don’t know whose fault it was, but there was an error done inside,’’ Jenks said. “I had four bone spurs on my spine. We talked about taking the top two out. The third one was started and not finished. So basically there was a serrated edge that sliced me open in two different spots and I was leaking spinal fluid.’’
According to Jenks, the fluid pooled at the bottom of his incision and was constantly leaking. Severe headaches followed.
“It kind of blew up on me,’’ he said. “It caused an infection to climb up that incision wound. So now I had an infection in my spine. It was a combination of everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.’’
Jenks contacted the Red Sox, who advised him to seek immediate treatment in Phoenix. Jenks said he was rushed into surgery the day he was examined, Dec. 30.
Dr. Christopher Yeung, a spine specialist, operated on Jenks, and the most severe of his symptoms soon abated.
“If I didn’t have it done immediately, the infection could’ve gotten into my spinal fluid and up to my brain,’’ said Jenks. “Who knows what happens then? I could obviously not be here right now.’’
Jenks said he was in excruciating pain before the second surgery and that it was “very, very painful’’ to recover from.
Massachusetts General Hospital released this statement: “We are very sorry that Mr. Jenks experienced complications following his surgery, and we are glad that he is continuing to improve. It would be inappropriate for MGH to provide any specific information about Mr. Jenks’ surgery without the consent of the patient and the Red Sox organization.’’
Dr. Mitchel B. Harris of Brigham and Women’s Hospital said last night that Wood is a highly qualified surgeon and it was unlikely he did anything to cause the complications.
“It is certainly possible that after the operation there was no tear but a change in the overall position of the bone subsequent to the surgery caused it,’’ said Harris, who is the chief of BWH’s orthopedic trauma service. “That complication would result in those symptoms.’’
An infection, Harris said, would “be a combination of some bad luck.’’
Jenks has a long red scar on the middle of his back, about 7 inches long. He reported to spring training but is unable even to play catch.
“My muscles were so torn open, I was basically laid up in bed and couldn’t function,’’ he said.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said the team is investigating what happened.
“I don’t have enough expertise in that area to comment specifically on exactly what happened,’’ said Cherington. “But apparently there was some soft tissue that was irritated after the first procedure, some piece of bone that was rubbing against the soft tissue around the spine and causing irritation and ultimately fluid build-up. That made it very uncomfortable and required the second procedure to happen.’’
Jenks was asked about the possibility of legal action.
“That’s why I got people,’’ he said. “I let them worry about that. If there’s something there, I’ll let them take care of it. My job is to get better. That’s what I’m going to focus on.’’
Jenks’s agent, Greg Genske, did not return calls seeking comment.
Said Cherington, “All I know is the second procedure needed to happen, and that’s unfortunate with any player that requires a surgery. You don’t want to have to go back in there and do anything a second time, certainly that soon thereafter.
“I can’t speak to the specifics of what happened in the first procedure. It’s not my area. There was something in there that wasn’t taking the way it was planned.’’
Jenks, who turns 31 next month, does not know whether he will be able to pitch this season. Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2011 season, he appeared in only 19 games last season.
Jenks required medication to clear up a pulmonary embolism before he had the first surgery.
“It has been incredibly frustrating,’’ he said.
This is latest in what has been a series of medical missteps for the Red Sox.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury accused the team of incorrectly diagnosing a rib injury he suffered early in the 2010 season, something the team denied. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia broke a bone in his left foot in June of that season, returned in August, and lasted only two games before having surgery.
Last year, righthander Clay Buchholz was said to have suffered a minor back injury in June that was later diagnosed by an independent specialist as being a stress fracture. Outfield prospect Ryan Kalish tore a shoulder labrum in April, was advised to try rehabilitation, and eventually required surgery that did not take place until November.
The Red Sox removed Dr. Thomas Gill as their medical director after last season, replacing him with another MGH-affiliated doctor, Peter Asnis. The team also reassigned its head athletic trainer and fired three other people on the medical staff.
“The changes we made in the medical staff were obviously in motion well before Jenks’s surgery in December and subsequent surgery,’’ Cherington said. “They weren’t related to each other.’’
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.