Gallbladder Surgery Complications – John Murtha’s Death



Gallbladder surgery complications are not uncommon unfortunately and although none of the editors of InsideSurgery participated in his care, we have noted reports that Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha has died from complications following removal of his gallbladder.

John Murtha Gallbladder Surgery Complications   John Murthas Death

The Associated Press is reporting tonight that Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Brady of Philadelphia has stated that Murtha suffered from injury to his large intestine during the operation at Bethesda Naval Hospital to remove his gallbladder.

The gallbladder was reportedly removed laparoscopically or as it is sometimes described via a minimally invasive technique.

Murtha was apparently discharged to home and then presented to the Virginia Hospital Center complaining of abdominal pain and a fever.

Several days ago he was reported to be in the intensive care unit, indicating that one of a number of posssible serious gallbladder surgery complications had developed which he eventually succumbed to.

Despite being widely performed and viewed as a routine and straightforward operation by patients, laparoscopic cholecystectomy or gallbladder removal can be technically difficult to perform in certain situations.

There are many ways that injury to the intestines can occur in this procedure. An understanding of the anatomy of abdomen and the pathophysiology of gallbladder disease is useful.

The gallbladder is a sac-like structure hanging from a system of ducts leading from the liver in the right upper quadrant to the duodenum.

Immediately adjacent to the gallbladder is the hepatic flexure of the right colon.

When the gallbladder becomes inflamed, the walls of the gallbladder and the surrounding tissue literally becomes red and swollen and the normal tissue planes become obscured, particularly if there have been repeated attacks of cholecystitis or gallbladder inflammation.

To put it simply, “everything gets stuck together” including the gallbladder and colon.

When removing the gallbladder one of the first steps is to peel the colon off the underlying gallbladder wall, without tearing the colon in the process.

While large holes in the colon are fairly easy to notice, smaller perforations in a bed of inflamed tissue are easier to miss.

A second way that the colon can be injured resulting in gallbladder surgery complications is during the procedure is inadvertently perforating it with a retractor or dissecting instrument.

This generally occurs as the tissue is being gently pulled down off of the cystic duct. The sweeping motion of the grasper is towards the area of the colon, which may get “poked” by the tip of the retractor.

A third way the colon can be injured is through a thermal burn from the Bovie electrocautery used to stop localized bleeding from tissues.

This injury causing gallbladder surgery complications may present as a delayed finding and is not uncommon when patients re-present to the hospital with colon injury after being discharged home.

Related Posts

Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy (Gallbladder Removal)
Acute Cholecystitis

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14 Comments to “Gallbladder Surgery Complications – John Murtha’s Death”

  1. joy says:

    Two yrs ago my mom had a colonoscopy and her colon was perforated,she was in the hospital for 6 wks, it was a nightmare, now the Dr say she needs her gallbladder out and a hernia out from the prior surgery to repair her colon.After hearing this story I am very nervous about her going through the surgery.

  2. Teresa says:

    I suffered, but survived a similar event. Would open surgery be a safer option for delicate surgeries where a surgeon can see and feel what he/she is doing rather than viewing through a 2 dimensional screen?

  3. k. York chynn says:

    I admire Dr. L Marcucci and his staff’s detailed information about John Murtha’s cholecystectomy and its complication. It is so importaant for those who do laparoscopic cholecytectomy.
    If we can learn a little more detail about the postoperative course in this case, it will definitely help future cass. Do we know 1) How soon after surgery did he develop symptoms? 2) What symptoms? 3) How soon after the surgery and discharge, did he revisit the doctor or hospital??
    This forum is of immense help for future patients and doctors.
    Thank you.

  4. Patsy says:

    My ex sister-in-law, my neice and nephew’s mother had her gallbladder removed a few weeks ago. A couple of days later my nephew said she was taken back to surgery as they had found that her intestines were “nicked” during the surgery. She remained in ICU for almost two weeks on a ventilator, her condition progressed into ARDS and then her lung collapsed and she “blew a blood clot” as we were told. Her cause of death is listed as Sepsis. This is so sad for them to lose their mother who was only 50 years old when they thought she was having a fairly minor surgery.

  5. Jen says:

    I too had complications from gallbladder surgery. the surgeon put the surgical clips on my hepatic ducts as well as my cystic duct. Thankfully my family physician followed up on my labs after surgery and after a year and numerous tests, it was found that my liver was not draining due to those clips. I had a hepaticojejunostomy at Thomas Jefferson Univ Hosp in Phila by Dr. Ignazio Marino. Today I have a scar gracing my entire abdomen and am dealing with adhesions and bowel/intestine issues. Dr. Marino even said this should not have happened and could have been prevented with a cholangiogram, but that was not done prior to closing me up.

  6. Sheila says:

    I had this surgery around the smae time the Senator did. My small intestines was perforated and I was in the ICU for quite a while due to SEPSIS. THere were also abscesses in my Small Intestines. I have been off work for a little over a year. This was suppose to be a minor surgical procedure and I would return to work in two weeks. This has been very Tramatic for me. I don’t remember anything that happened. My family had to explain to me what happened. I am so afraid that of what is to come in the future for me.

  7. PATRICK RICE says:

    I am right now researching this, my mother just passed away last Tues. AM from what I beleive was septic infection. She had a bial duct that was leaking. She had been sent home, had called with pain and no appitite several times and was told it was just gas and to walk… She was back in the Hosp. within a week, They had missed a stone in her bial duct, it was removed, but then it seemed as if they just were convinced that was the problem.. They put her on a reg. diet right after the second Surg. she did not eat…They had put a drain in and they came in a ew days later and removed that and were going to send her home!! Afetr some complaining they kept her overnight one more night. The next day her heart rate was rapid, her kidneys were not fuctioning properly… This was a nightmare…First it was they were moving her to cardiac because of her heartrate, then they put her in ICU because she had turned septic!! She died several days later!!! Just that fast, and just that sudden.. DO NOT THINK A GALL BLADDER OPERATION IS RUTINE!!!!

  8. mindy holt says:

    i AM SO CRUSHED READING THESE STORIES AS i AM CURRENTLY GOING THROUGH THIS WITH MY DAD. hE IS COLON CANCER SURIVOR FOR 2 YEARS NOW, HAVING 18 INCHES REMOVED IN 2009. nOW WE STARTED WITH THE GALL BLADDER ISSUE AND WAS SCHED TO HAVE IT LAPERSCOP LAST tUES AND THE PERFORATED HIS COLON AND THEN HAD TO OPEN HIM UP JUST LIKE THAT DID FOR HIS COLON CANCER SURGERY BUT NOW HIS INCISION IS EVEN LONGER. tHEY TOOK MY DAD OFF OF THE iv, REMOVED STAPLES, STARTED HIM OF LIQUIDS AND WHEN IT CAME TO FOOD HE CAN NOT KEEP ANYTHING DOWN. thE DID ANOTHER XRAY TODAY AND FOLLOWED BY A ct SCAN, NOW THE DR IS SAYING THERE IS NARROWING BUT NOT A BLOCKAGE AND TOMO AM THEY WILL DETERMINE IF ANOTHER SURGERY IS NECESSARY. wE THOUGHT THIS WAS A SAME DAY SURGERY. I AM DEVASTATED FOR MY FAMILY. i CALL THE DRS OFFICE BUT LEAVE MESSAGES AND NO ONE HAS CALLED BACK. sUPER FRUSTRATED. sUPER SAD. MINDY

  9. Jared Bistrong says:

    My father is in ICU as I write this. He went in for a Gallbladder removal. The following day he had severe pain. There was a stone stuck in is duct. They went back in through his mouth to remove it. Next thing we know he’s a mess. He has water in his lungs and they say he’s septic. He’s been heavily sedated for two days. They put a drain in to find out what type of liquid is in his stomach. . .once someone is septic like this, is there a chance for recovery? What a disaster. He was in great health. Now we’re preparing for the worst.

  10. Melissa says:

    I’m 37 and had my gallbladder out on November 18, 2011. Two days later I was leaking bile into my body cavity, a stent was placed via an ERCP as well as a jp drain to collect the leaking bile. Two weeks later I was back in the hospital again, had another stent added. It is now February and I just had a third ERCP to take out the two stents and replace them with one larger metal stent.I constantly have chest pains and nausea. If I survive this, it will be four months of my life and income gone. I’m praying that I’m able to lead a healthy and full functional life again.

  11. Stephanie says:

    I’m,in the process of diagnosing right now but my dr us convinced my gallbladder is the problem. I’m worried about getting it removed if thats the answer they come up with. Reading all of this testifies me. Idk what to do. I don’t want to die because of a surgery. In 26 and I have a 5 yr old to stick around for!

  12. donna says:

    I just had cholecystectomy two weeks ago and I am doing fine. Most people, like me, recover without incident. With any surgical procedure there are risks and unfortunately, some are fatal. I know many people who have had the surgery w/o a problem. The odds are, as the doctors will tell you, you will be fine with the surgery and will be able to enjoy eating again without restrictions or pain. I would do it again and take the risk. Make sure you have a good reputable doctor with plenty of experience.

  13. Missy says:

    Hello everyone. I take comfort in knowing im not wrong with how im feeling after i had my gull bladder removed. I had my gull bladder removed in 2010 with 23 stones inside it. I was 27yrs old at the time, and the stomach & backpains was the worst pain i have ever endured. I told myself i would rather die than go through this pain. So after many times of convincing the doctors i was in serious pain, i had the surgery. The surgery took its toll on me, my body just didn’t feel like it use to be. 1 month later pains came back, went back to hospital & was told there was 1 stone in my bile duct. It was removed. Up to now 2012, i still feel like my body isn’t right. I have depression now the surgery & every now and then i get this excruciating pain on my top right abdomen, on the same place where the cut was made to remove my gull bladder, i am feeling pain now as i write this. Please help me if u are going through the same thing because i have lost hope in the doctors.

  14. Brenda says:

    Thank you for your information. There seems to be issues involving gallbladder
    procedures. I was wondering is it possible the surgical clips used during the
    surgery and left in the body may be the cause of the discomfort we feel today.
    I had my gallbladder removed in 1997 and gastiric bypass in 2007. Now today
    I have severe colon spasms and upper right side abdomen pain. I recently had a
    mylogram/ct test done and the report showed the surgical clips. Trying to find
    answers. Physicians are very reluctant to talk about these situations. Thanks for
    your help.

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