LAS VEGAS — The death of a 38-year-old Las Vegas man following spinal surgery has caused a buzz in local medical circles. That’s because the surgeon who performed the operation recently plead guilty to federal charges.
The doctor, Mark Kabins, is considered a central player in the FBI’s ongoing Medical Mafia investigation.
There’s no indication the doctor or the hospital did anything wrong or screwed up in any way. But anytime a patient dies days after surgery, and the surgeon who performed the operation is at the heart of an ongoing FBI investigation, something like this is bound to get noticed.
David Fletcher was a U.S. Marine who served with a tank division in Desert Storm. He was happily married with two children. He knew there were risks associated with back surgery, but gave his consent when he entered Valley Hospital on December 5, 2009.
Dr. Kabins was listed as the admitting physician, the attending physician and the person who performed the operation on Fletcher’s aching spine. But something went terribly wrong following the operation, and on December 10, 2009, Fletcher was dead.
Valley Hospital notified the Clark County Coroner’s Office of Fletcher’s death, though Kabins was not mentioned as the surgeon of record. The Coroner’s Office says they have been told Dr. Annie Cheanvechai, a vascular surgeon who was part of Fletcher’s surgical team and did prep work for Kabins to operate on the spine, will sign the death certificate. The doctor says she was not the surgeon of record, but declined further comment.
Valley Hospital initially declined to say anything because of patient confidentiality, and then denied Dr. Chevenchai had anything to do with the patient, then told us she did. A spokesperson also said cause of death was not related to the surgery. The coroner says Fletcher died of cardiac arrest and thrombosis, which is akin to blood clotting.
Some of Kabins’ colleagues say, off the record, they are astonished by the ambitious schedule of surgeries he has maintained, even though just a few weeks ago he plead guilty to participating in the self-titled Medical Mafia conspiracy.
The FBI has been investigating a network of local doctors and lawyers for the past five years. Prosecutors allege the conspiracy raked in tens of millions of dollars, money that otherwise would have gone to the injured patients.
In late November, Kabins admitted in his plea agreement that he participated in a conspiracy with co-defendants Howard Awand and attorney Noel Gage regarding patient Melodie Simon, who became a paraplegic after a botched surgery. Kabins agreed to focus the blame on another doctor and was assured he would not face a malpractice suit.
The FBI has also investigated the use of medical liens on patient accounts, a practice allegedly encouraged by Awand’s company, which had a contractual relationship with Valley Hospital regarding medical liens.
Kabins will be sentenced in January. He has agreed to serve six months of house arrest, pay $3.5 million to Simon, and serve five years probation. The question is whether he will still be able to practice medicine and care for the 17 patients he has operated on since pleading guilty in late November.
It will be up to Nevada’s Medical Board to decide if Dr. Kabins will be allowed to continue his practice after he becomes a convicted felon.
Valley Hospital says although Fletcher died because of complications following surgery, it doesn’t mean there was anything wrong about the operation. Sometimes, the body simply reacts. We were also told that just because a doctor other than Kabins signed death certificate, it doesn’t mean there is any attempt to hide his involvement with the patient.
As federal authorities await the Kabins’ sentencing and the trial of the other alleged conspirators, they are understandably interested in anything that involves someone who will likely be a key witness in a pretty big case.