Ex-Red Sox, White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks awarded $5.1M settlement over career-ending back surgery

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/boston/" data-ylk="slk:Boston Red Sox">Boston Red Sox</a> pitcher Bobby Jenks received a large settlement for a career-ending spinal surgery. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
Boston Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks received a large settlement for a career-ending spinal surgery. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Former Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks was awarded $5.1 million in an out-of-court settlement Wednesday with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Dr. Kirkham Wood.

Jenks, 38, suffered from back pain and underwent spinal surgery with Wood, the former head of orthopedic spine surgery, in the hope of returning to the mound. Instead, the surgery ended his career and he filed a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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Jenks underwent surgery to come back

Jenks played six seasons with the White Sox from 2005 through 2010, winning a World Series title in ‘05, earning two all-star nods and accruing a 3.40 ERA. He signed a two-year contract with Boston, where he was in the clubhouse for only 19 games and went on the then-disabled list three times.

In December 2011 he underwent spinal decompression surgery at MGH for a surgery that Wood said presented the best chance at returning to baseball, but did not provide a guarantee, per the Boston Globe.

Jenks experienced headaches and issues with spinal fluid back home in Arizona. A surgeon who worked on him there after the complications reportedly told Jenks that Wood had failed to complete the operation.

Jenks told the Globe:

“Never picking up a baseball again is absolutely devastating. I was living my dream, and it was taken away from me.”

He filed suit and later learned Wood had been doing surgery on another patient at the same time as him.

The case was to go to trial Thursday in Boston. MGH released a statement, per the Globe, that Wood provided “high-quality” care and the overlapped surgeries paid no part. The settlement was for less than Jenks originally demanded and it was the “most prudent outcome,” per the statement.

Dangers of concurrent surgery

The Globe obtained an operating room schedule showing surgeries for Jenks and another patient happened concurrently, almost to the exact start time. Jenks said, per the Globe, he wants to use the settlement to send the message about concurrent surgeries.

“I want this to be spread everywhere and known by everybody. What they practiced at the hospital was unsafe and should not be done anywhere.”

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team focused in 2015 on the “open secret” of concurrent surgeries in teaching hospitals. The practice, also called overlapping surgery, is “an important method of managing busy operating rooms,” per the Massachusetts General Hospital website.

It’s widely used so that the preparation of one patient can begin as a surgeon is finishing up surgery on another patient and in cases such as a massive trauma event, it is crucial. The overlapping time is meant to be small and the doctor will leave the the prep and closing work to trainees.

Per MGH, the hospital has one of the strongest concurrent surgery practices that is used as an example around the country

The practice is generally safe, according to a study in the Journal of American Medical Assocation (JAMA), though there potentially significantly higher risks of post-operative complications for high-risk patients.

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