On July 31, 2019, after a one-week trial, an Iowa medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in favor of a 65-year-old man who lost feeling below his waist as a result of a cervical facet radiofrequency nerve ablation procedure in December 2014 that was intended to relieve his pain.
The Iowa medical malpractice jury awarded the plaintiff $860,000 for future medical expenses, $200,000 for past lost wages, $200,000 for future lost earning capacity, $3 million for past and future pain and suffering, and $3 million for past and future loss of function. The Iowa medical malpractice jury also awarded $100,000 to the plaintiff’s wife for her loss of consortium claim. The jury deliberated for two days before returning its verdict against the doctor who performed the procedure and his employer.
What Is Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation?
UCSF Health describes on its website cervical facet radiofrequency nerve ablation as follows:
Facet joints are pairs of small joints located at each vertebral level of the spine. Each facet joint is connected to two medial branch nerves that carry signals, including pain signals, away from the joints to the spine and brain. The sacroiliac joints are located at the lowest part of the spine, between the sacrum and ilium in the pelvis, and are also connected to nerves that carry signals to other parts of the body.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also known as rhizotomy, is one of the newest pain control techniques. In this non-surgical procedure, radiofrequency waves are delivered to certain nerves, with the goal of interrupting pain signals to the brain. RFA typically targets pain from the facet joints, which can contribute to chronic pain in the neck or lower back, and the sacroiliac joints, which can contribute to chronic low back pain.
RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that does not require anesthesia. During the procedure, you will lie on your stomach, or for some neck procedures, on your side. You may have an intravenous (IV) line so we can administer a sedative to relax you.
Your doctor will numb a small area of skin around your spine with an anesthetic. The doctor will then use X-ray guidance to direct a special radiofrequency needle alongside the targeted nerves. To confirm proper position, a small amount of electrical current is passed through a probe placed in the needle to the targeted nerve. At this point, you may experience brief pain or a muscle twitch, which the doctor will discuss with you at the time.
Once proper position is confirmed, more local anesthetic is given to the area where the RFA will be performed. During the procedure, most patients feel either nothing or a mild warm sensation.
The procedure may take one to two hours, depending on the treatment site and number of treatments performed.
After the procedure, you may experience soreness in the targeted area for a few days. Rare complications include infection, bleeding and nerve damage.
Although results vary from patient to patient, the effectiveness of RFA may last from three to 12 months. Often the nerve will eventually regenerate and in some cases, the joint pain may return.
If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury (or worse) as a result of medical negligence in Iowa or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Iowa medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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