Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

State medical board withdraws complaint against transplant surgeon

June 3, 2009 |  1:10 pm

The Medical Board of California has withdrawn its complaint seeking to revoke or suspend the medical license of a San Francisco surgeon accused of trying to speed a potential organ donor’s death.

The surgeon, Dr. Hootan Roozrokh, was also charged criminally in the case, which involved a failed attempt to acquire organs from a comatose 25-year-old patient, Ruben Navarro, who suffered from a wasting neurological condition. In December, jurors found Roozrokh not guilty of dependent adult abuse, a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to four years.

Candis Cohen, a spokeswoman with the Medical Board, said today that additional information had come to the attention of the deputy attorney general who filed the accusation.

“She determined she could not meet the burden of proof,” Cohen said. The formal complaint was withdrawn last week, she said.

The incident that prompted the Medical Board's complaint took place on the night of Feb. 3, 2006, when Navarro was close to death at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. He had suffered a heart attack at a nearby care home. His mother had given permission for organ donation, and a team that included Roozrokh flew in from San Francisco on behalf of a regional transplant network.

The medical board complaint, filed last year, accused Roozrokh of being in the operating room before Navarro’s death and of “actively monitoring the patient’s vital signs for a determination of death.” Under state law, transplant doctors cannot direct the care of organ donors before they are declared dead.

The medical board complaint also accused Roozrokh of ordering staff to give Navarro pain and anxiety medication even though he did not have staff privileges at the San Luis Obispo hospital.

Roozrokh had arrived to supervise a donation after cardiac death, a procedure that had never been performed at the 165-bed hospital.

Prosecutors alleged that Roozrokh ordered excessive doses of painkillers so that Navarro would die within a half an hour after the patient is removed from life support so that the organs would be usable.

Prosecutors also said that having a transplant surgeon having anything to do with the care of a potential organ donor before his death was an appalling breach, but also acknowledged that hospital staff members were unclear about exactly what they should be doing during the unfamiliar procedure.

At the criminal trial, Roozrokh said that the operating room staff was so confused that he had just one ethical choice: Step in to ease what pain and terror Navarro might have been silently experiencing.

Navarro survived eight hours after he was removed from life support and given the drugs. By that time, his organs were no longer viable and could not be recovered.

M. Gerald Schwartzbach, Roozrokh’s lawyer, said he was delighted at the medical board’s decision.

“Given the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances Dr. Roozrokh was forced to face, he exercised appropriate medical judgment to prevent Ruben Navarro from suffering while he died,” Schwartzbach said.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II