By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
A malpractice claim was settled with undisclosed terms in 1996 after a 24-year-old man complained that a 1991 surgery at Broward General to fix his broken femur was botched. The man, who had been in a car accident, alleged his leg was further damaged as a result of Lwin's mistakes.
On June 10, 1997, Lwin treated 57-year-old Carol Meister of Fort Lauderdale for a complex forearm fracture at Broward General. According to state records, he used an improper plate in the surgery that caused her arm to become deformed. Meister also claimed he'd left broken hardware in her elbow. She was forced to have another major surgery to fix the problem. Lwin's insurer settled for $250,000 in 2002.
A 2000 lawsuit alleging that Lwin failed to diagnose a broken neck while treating a patient at Broward General. Robert Cameron suffered the injury during a car crash. Lwin missed the fracture even though it was evident, according to Fort Lauderdale malpractice attorney Jeff Fox. "He never looked at the x-ray," Fox alleges. Lwin treated Cameron with a hot pack and released him from the hospital. It wasn't until months later that the fracture was discovered and Cameron had to undergo major surgery. That claim is still pending.
Yet another case involves a complaint by 58-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident Frank Crane. He filed a lawsuit against the doctor back in 1997, but his attorney abandoned it after several months of litigation. Crane, however, still insists that Lwin's incompetence almost cost him his life.
In 1995, Crane suffered a chronic bone infection, called osteomyelitis, in his leg. He says Lwin knew he had the condition -- which can lead to loss of limb and even death -- but never told him about it. Though the pain was severe, he claims Lwin prescribed him only ibuprofen.
After several months, his wife, Jane, noticed the term "chronic osteomyelitis" in her husband's medical records. She asked her gynecologist about it. "He said, 'You're husband could lose his leg. He could lose his life,'" she recalls. "Thank God for my gynecologist. Dr. Lwin said nothing about it. This went on for a year, and my husband was in terrible pain."
The couple found a new doctor in Miami who performed a complicated surgery that the couple is convinced saved his life. Frank Crane says he sued Lwin for malpractice because of one recurring fear: that a friend or family member might come under the doctor's care in the future. "You want to see the SOB lose his license and emptying bedpans for a living," he says. "That would be his just punishment. I'd like to ring his throat."
Adds his wife, "All I really want is to take that man somewhere and beat the hell out of him."
Like Crane, Ledford was left with more anger than satisfaction. Ledford chose not to file a lawsuit on her mother's behalf but instead sent a detailed complaint to the state Agency for Health Care Administration.
The complaint was apparently investigated by the Probable Cause Panel of the Florida Board of Medicine, which is made up primarily of fellow doctors. On June 25, 2003, the Department of Health sent Ledford a letter informing her that no probable cause had been found to discipline Lwin. "I just threw my hands up in the air when I got that letter," Ledford says. "It's shocking to me that he's allowed to continue to practice. It's just incredible. But what can I do?"
The board is notoriously easy on doctors. After investigating the agency last year, the consumer group Public Citizen called it "dangerously lenient." Under Florida statutes, however, Ledford's complaint isn't even a matter of public record -- it's as if none of it ever existed. I only happened to get hold of it while investigating Lwin's political activity. So there's no way to know how many serious complaints the Florida Board of Medicine has failed to act upon.
But the district itself is ultimately responsible. Several doctors, including Goldstein, complained back in 2002 that Lwin shouldn't be awarded the district contract. But the commission nonetheless approved it even though Lwin's poor medical and business practices made it evident that he shouldn't be Broward General's chief emergency room orthopedist.
The contract, as it happens, comes up for renewal in April. If the district board truly cares about patient care and fair business, it's time to end Lwin's involvement with the district and open up the ER to all qualified surgeons. Our very bones might depend on it.