By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Saying her leg has been numb and dysfunctional since her spinal surgery in Powell, a Cody woman is suing the hospital and the estate of her deceased spine surgeon.
Sylvia Hutton underwent spinal surgery by Dr. Clinton James Devin at Powell Valley Healthcare on Dec. 17, 2020, according to a legal complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming.
Devin was from Colorado but was licensed to work in Wyoming, and operated in both Cody and Powell. He died at age 46 in a plane crash near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in December 2021, according to his obituary.
Hutton’s lawsuit accuses Devin, now represented by his estate, and Powell Valley Healthcare of negligence relating to injuries she endures following her surgery.
Hutton is asking for more than $75,000 in damages, with the exact amount to be determined in court.
Powell Valley Healthcare did not immediately respond to a message and email from Cowboy State Daily requesting comment.
Screws And Rods
In her lawsuit, Hutton alleges that Devin should have prepared her better for surgery with six weeks of bone-strengthening medication or should not have considered her for surgery at all, because her bones had been weakened by a bout she had with breast cancer.
Devin acknowledged that Hutton’s bones were “extremely brittle,” the suit claims.
It alleges that Devin implanted “multiple rods and screws into Ms. Hutton’s spine,” during which she showed signs of iatrogenic, or surgery-caused, nerve injury.
Devin noted that because of Hutton’s poor bone quality, it was “very hard to see the pedicles,” or bridges between vertebrae, as he implanted screws into her spine, the complaint says.
Hutton’s complaint says she had suffered from intermittent lower back pain for years prior to the surgery.
An operative note indicates Hutton lost 54 milliliters of blood during the surgery; an MRI and CT scan after the procedure showed a “fairly large” blood pocket at her surgical site, according to the complaint.
Hutton alleges that Devin caused the blood pocket by using blood-stopping agents and drains “as a shortcut” instead of stopping the blood flow properly within the surgical site before closing it.
Devin left Wyoming shortly after the surgery, Hutton claims, leaving her in the care of a physical assistant instead of under the watch of a neurosurgeon. She said she soon realized her left leg ached and was weak, and that she could no longer walk safely.
Numb Leg And Foot
After hearing of Hutton’s complications, the complaint continues, Devin returned to Wyoming and performed another operation four days after the first.
Hutton claims the doctor misled her into thinking her post-operative complaints were a normal part of the surgery.
On Dec. 23, two days after her second surgery, Hutton was transferred to a skilled nursing facility at the hospital instead of going home. The hospital discharged Hutton to her home Jan. 3, 2021, the suit says.
“Ms. Hutton continues to be debilitated as a result of the … surgery and the delay in evacuating the hematoma (blood pocket) that foreseeably formed as a result of Dr. Devin’s substandard surgical techniques and poor patient selection,” reads the complaint.
Hutton says she is still in pain, has limited mobility of her left leg, walks with a limp and has numbness down her calf and in her left foot.
Hutton’s complaint states that she also is suing the hospital because it credentialed Devin despite, she alleges, Devin having “an unreasonably high complication rate.”
Hutton’s lawsuit says the hospital should have ensured that Devin or another neurosurgeon monitor her after her surgery.
This lawsuit says that there were 22 lawsuits filed against Powell Valley Healthcare between 2012 and 2016. The first two were “settled confidentially,” the complaint continues, while the latter 20 “pressed the hospital into bankruptcy” in 2018.
The hospital was “several million dollars in debt” because of a “prior dangerous surgeon,” Hutton alleges.
Hutton’s lawsuit is ongoing in federal court.