Former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks says he’s launching a campaign to stop surgeons from overseeing two operations at once, seven months after he received $5.1 million to settle a claim that he suffered a career-ending spine injury as a result of the practice at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In a lengthy first-person article published Thursday on The Players’ Tribune sports website, the former reliever says concurrent surgery, or double-booking, takes place without patients’ knowledge at some hospitals, something he called “straight up evil.”
“I didn’t decide to stop playing baseball,” wrote Jenks, who appears in a photograph showing a 15-inch surgical scar on his back. “I had the game taken away from me because of a botched back surgery in Boston that was supposed to be no big deal — because a level of care and professional expertise that I trusted to be present . . . was not there.”
Jenks, 38, a two-time All Star for the Chicago White Sox who came to Boston in 2011 and pitched in 19 games before hurting his back, also detailed his addiction to pain pills and alcohol, the collapse of his first marriage, his run-ins with the law, and recovery from substance abuse. But he said the primary reason for telling his story was to change surgical practices.
“I’m hoping to use my platform to start a movement in this country against concurrent surgeries,” he wrote.
He didn’t name Mass. General, where he underwent back surgery in 2011, or Dr. Kirkham Wood, the attending surgeon who juggled his case with that of another patient’s. In a brief interview Thursday, Jenks said he wanted to focus on the controversial practice, not on the hospital and physician with whom he settled his medical malpractice case in May, the day before his civil lawsuit against the hospital and Wood was to start.
A spokeswoman for Mass. General noted that the hospital had said in a statement after the case settled out of court that Wood provided “high-quality and appropriate care” to Jenks and that “overlapping surgery played no role in the case.” He suffered “a well-known complication associated with this type of surgery,” and the amount of the settlement was “far less than Mr. Jenks’s original demands,” the hospital said in its statement at the time.
Wood, who left Mass. General in 2015 and is a professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, referred questions to his lawyer, Richard Riley, of Boston.
Riley said Wood “performed the entirety of Mr. Jenks’s surgery” and “there was no ‘concurrent surgery’ issue.” Riley also said Jenks’s suggestion that he got addicted to painkillers because of his operation “is not supported by the evidence, including Mr. Jenks’s own deposition.”
Beyond his contribution to The Players’ Tribune — an online platform started by retired Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter to showcase articles by athletes — Jenks in September wrote Massachusetts state representative Hannah Kane, a Shrewsbury Republican, to express support for a bill she filed. The legislation would require that surgeons planning to do elective concurrent operations inform patients in writing at least two weeks beforehand.
“The practice of concurrent surgeries is dangerous in so many ways,” Jenks wrote Kane in an e-mail. “I understand that many things may go wrong during a surgical procedure, but it should never be caused by a doctor multitasking and lack of attention and care.”
Kane said Thursday that patients who suffered injuries in concurrent operations “are the best advocates for why this legislation is necessary.”
Double-booking was the focus of a 2015 Globe Spotlight Team series. Many surgeons at teaching hospitals schedule operations to overlap by a few minutes, letting trainees close the surgical wound of the first operation while the surgeon moves on to the second. But the practice has stirred controversy at several renowned hospitals, including Mass. General.
Dr. Dennis Burke, who was a prominent knee and hip surgeon at Mass. General, and several anesthesiologists there complained to leaders of the hospital about surgeries that overlapped for hours. They alleged that the practice was dangerous and that patients had no clue they were sharing surgeons.
Last month, Mass. General unexpectedly agreed to pay Burke $13 million to settle a wrongful-termination suit he filed after the hospital fired him in 2015. Burke alleged that he was dismissed for blowing the whistle on double-booking. Mass. General disputed that, saying it dismissed him for improperly releasing hundreds of his own patient records, with names redacted, to the Globe for a story that ran two months after the firing.
Jenks underwent one of the concurrent surgeries that Burke complained about to higher-ups. Jenks went to Wood in August 2011, two months after he left the mound in pain while pitching to the Yankees’ Jorge Posada. The surgeon recommended spinal decompression surgery to reduce Jenks’s pain.
The three-hour operation in December 2011 initially appeared to go well, according to medical records obtained by the Globe. Lawyers for Wood and the hospital said in court filings that Jenks’s treatment “met or exceeded the standard of care.”
Two weeks later, however, Jenks felt what he said seemed like a cup of water spurt from the surgical wound in his back at his home in Mesa, Ariz. That was followed by an excruciating headache, he said. It turned out that he had suffered a tear in the dural sac that covers the spine and leaked spinal fluid.
Jenks went to a surgeon in Arizona for an urgent second operation.
“ ‘Son,’ the doctor said after I regained consciousness at the hospital, ‘you’re lucky to be alive,’ ” Jenks wrote. Jenks said he learned that “my surgeon back on the East Coast was supposed to decompress two levels of my spine,” but the Arizona doctor informed him that “the second part of the surgery was never fully completed.”
Years later, Jenks wrote, he learned during the discovery phase of his medical malpractice suit that Wood had juggled his procedure with that of another patient who had been admitted the night before Jenks’s operation after being paralyzed in an accident.
“In my opinion, the reason why that bony spike was left in my body was because the doctor had rushed my surgery and wasn’t as careful as he should have been,” Jenks wrote. “He had to get over to that other patient, and, as a result, he screwed up my procedure.”
Jenks wrote that he became addicted to painkillers after his back operation and described a couple of incidents in which he was behind the wheel of a car, one of which resulted in him being arrested for DUI. In the other, he woke up in a stranger’s car wearing only his underwear and covered in glass.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org