Ben Carson Responds To Accusations That He Left A Sponge On A Patient’s Brain

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

A shock claim emerged Wednesday that as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was the target of numerous malpractice lawsuits, including one in which a patient claimed he left a “sponge” on her brain during surgery.

But though numerous media outlets jumped on the story to criticize Carson, The Daily Caller obtained a document showing that the case was dropped against him just over a year after it was filed. At the same time, Johns Hopkins and several other medical professionals remained defendants in the suit.

It was already known that Carson was the subject of a handful of malpractice accusations over the course of his 35-year medical career. The Guardian reported many of those cases in May but noted that the number of suits filed against Carson was in line with the industry.

But the National Enquirer, the gossip magazine, added to the story this week when it reported that a Florida woman named Darlene King sued Carson, Johns Hopkins University and several other medical professionals for medical malpractice in 2011.

The story was picked up by numerous media outlets and blasted across the Drudge Report, with the headline “NATIONAL ENQUIRER TAKES SCALPEL TO BEN CARSON; LEFT SPONGE IN PATIENT’S BRAIN!”

In the suit, filed April 8, 2011, King claimed that Carson left a sponge on her brain during an April 2008 surgery to repair trigeminal neuralgia, a condition which causes intense facial pain.

King became a patient of Carson’s in Spring 2002. He first conducted surgery on her in November of that year. That procedure did not cure King of her symptoms, she claimed, and so she underwent surgery again on April 10, 2008.

Ben Carson public domain

Dr. Benjamin Carson

During that procedure, “the operative team, under the direction of Dr. Carson, negligently permitted a cloth pad or ‘sponge’ to be left in the operative site under the dura in Mrs. King’s brain,” the suit states.

King underwent three more surgeries over the course of the next year-and-a-half — one on May 7, 2008, July 29, 2008, and another on Sept. 1, 2009. She claims that she was pain free until Dec. 2009 at which point she began suffering again from pain associated with trigeminal neuralgia.

On May 5, 2010, Carson ordered King to undergo an MRI in Florida, where she lives. That revealed a mass on King’s brain which “suggested” a tumor. A pre-operative radiology study conducted on July 1, 2010 revealed a “nodule” pressing on the left hemisphere of King’s brain. An analysis found that the mass pressing on King’s brain was foreign material and not a tumor.

According to the suit, Carson met with King and her family and “subsequently explained…that this material was a sponge that he had left in Mrs. King’s brain” during the April 10, 2008 surgery.

After experiencing pain after the July 2010 procedure, King went to Dr. Raymond Sekula the next month. Over the course of several other procedures she claimed she was relieved of facial pain.

In the suit, King alleges that Carson and other doctors committed medical malpractice by “deviat[ing] from the accepted standard of medical and surgical care.” She says that she must now avoid getting her ears wet and that her condition “precludes her from enjoying water sports.” She also suffers from permanent hearing loss and must use a specialized ear wax, she claims.

Carson responded Wednesday night to the National Enquirer’s report when asked about it in an interview with Fox News Radio’s Alan Colmes.

“My reaction is that I did 15,000 operations,” Carson said. “And the people who oppose me have been crawling through every ditch, every place I’ve ever been my whole life looking for stuff. They found five or six disgruntled people, that’s a very small number, and many of those cases never went anywhere, because the legal system said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and threw it out.”

Carson then said that such litigation is “not for public discussion.” Like litigation in other industries, medical malpractice lawsuits often include non-disclosure agreements which prevent parties from discussing cases.

“I would probably find myself in some difficulty if I do begin to discuss that stuff publicly,” Carson continued, adding that “generally speaking there is no one who does the number of operations that I did who aren’t going to find some people who are going to be disgruntled.”

Colmes pressed Carson on the question of the sponge. The candidate responded, saying that “it is true that we put a certain type of sponge in to pad things away and sometimes there is a reaction to that sponge and that’s what happened.”

A spokeswoman for Carson’s campaign clarified his comments for TheDC on Thursday. Ying Ma repeated Carson’s claims that the lawsuits were filed by “five or six disgruntled former patients.”

“A lot of stories have implied that there was some kind of malfeasance involved,” Ma stated, adding that “that could not be further from the truth.”

Asked directly how King could be called “disgruntled” if Carson left foreign material inside of her during surgery, Ma disputed the premise stating that “there was no sponge left inadvertently in a patient’s brain.”

“Rather, cushioning was purposely placed in the patient as part of the procedure, and the patient had a reaction to it,” she said.

Reached by phone on Thursday, King’s husband said that neither he nor his wife would talk about the case. “Call over,” he told TheDC.

And indeed, King’s case against Carson appears to have gone nowhere.

On May 15, 2012, Maryland’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Office, which handled the case, dismissed charges against Carson, according to a document obtained by TheDC. The case was “dismissed without prejudice,” meaning that charges could potentially be brought in the future. In contrast, the resolution board allowed the case against Johns Hopkins and several other medical professionals to remain open.

It is unclear how that portion of the suit was resolved.

Resolution of King complaint

Follow Chuck on Twitter