The death of a respected teacher on a Palmerston North Hospital operating table could not have been predicted, a coroner has ruled.
Former Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School principal George Sutherland died on July 23, 2010, while undergoing surgery.
Surgeon Bruce Rhind cut into the 76-year-old's heart when he tried to drain fluid from a sac around his heart through a procedure known as a "pericardial window".
In findings released today coroner Carla Na Nagara said fluid had been visible in the sac in a sonogram taken the day before
However, it had drained in the 24 hours between then and the surgery causing the sac to attach to the heart. This meant that when Dr Rhind cut into the sac he cut into Mr Sutherland's heart itself.
Mrs Na Nagara said there was no evidence to suggest Mr Sutherland's death was the result of "a shortcoming" on behalf of Dr Rhind.
MidCentral District Health Board's chief medical officer Dr Kenneth Clark said "the staff of MidCentral Health have very carefully considered the events surrounding Mr Sutherland's death.
"A number of similar procedures have been undertaken in the past without any concerns arising, and the exact circumstances of Mr Sutherland's presentation could not have been foreseen.
"However senior clinicians have processes in place to ensure the safest possible treatment is provided when such procedures are required in the future.
"On behalf of MidCentral DHB I extend my condolences to the family of Mr Sutherland."
Following Mr Sutherland's death Dr Clarke audited all similar surgeries in the previous ten years, about 20 cases in total.
He found it was "reasonable and sensible" for staff at the hospital to continue to carry out the procedure rather than transferring patients to Wellington.
The hospital has not carried out a pericarial window surgery since the incident.
Mrs Na Nagara said she was satisfied with the steps taken by the hospital after Mr Sutherland's death and made no further recommendations.
Mr Sutherland retired from Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School in 1990 after working there for 29 years.
At the time of his retirement then office manager Lorraine Petherick said he would be missed.
"He has always been a very kind, gentle man with a good sense of humour, and very supportive of staff."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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