ATLANTIC CITY — The estate of a Burlington County woman who died in 2013 after neck surgery at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center is set to receive a $4.2 million settlement in a malpractice suit.
Attorneys found the doctor who was supposed to be “neuromonitoring” the surgery remotely, Craig J. Anmuth, was driving his car and making phone calls instead, according to a news release from attorney Michael Trunk, who represented the woman’s estate. The suit was originally filed in 2015 in Atlantic County Superior Court.
Anmuth must agree to cease all neuromonitoring activity for at least one year, as well as pay $2 million of the settlement, while his employer, Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation, is responsible for $1 million. An additional $1.1 million is due from Robert Perro, the neuromonitoring technician, and his employer, Neuromonitoring Technologies, while AtlantiCare must pay $100,000.
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Anmuth has never been employed by AtlantiCare but is an independent member of the medical staff, and hospital officials are reviewing the case, AtlantiCare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said Wednesday afternoon.
As for Perro, he is a tech employed by Neuromonitoring Technologies, Tornetta said. The company had a contract with the hospital to provide neuromonitoring services, but the hospital no long contracts with them.
About 40 minutes into the spinal disc and fusion surgery Oct. 22, 2013, intraoperative neuromonitoring — used to assess functional integrity of the brain, brain stem and spinal cord — of Margaret Mary Niedzwiadek, 59, of Southampton, showed “concerning and diminishing signals,” according to the release.
Niedzwiadek never woke up after surgery and remained in a coma for almost two months until she died.
Neither Anmuth nor Perro reported the signal change to the surgeons, Trunk said, even though the “issue was likely the position of the patient’s neck cutting off blood flow, which could have been easily remedied had the surgeons been informed.”
Anmuth, a specialist in electrodiagnostic medicine and medical director of Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation, had not been watching the monitoring remotely, Trunk said, even though he testified in a deposition that he had and that, without realizing it, his internet connection must have been lost, leaving his laptop screen frozen.
Trunk, along with doctor and attorney Gary Zakeosian, found Anmuth had been driving his car when the surgery started, and cellphone tower records showed he made or received seven phone calls during the surgery, despite testifying he didn’t use his phone at all, according to the release.
One call was to “Tom the Plumber,” Trunk said.
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Forensic analysis of Anmuth’s computer and subpoenaed records from his virtual private network provider showed he was not logged into the surgery until almost 50 minutes after it had started, according to the release. Then, he used anti-forensic software “multiple times to purge his computer of all evidence from that day.”
“This was the most egregious case of malpractice I’ve seen in my nearly two decades of practicing law,” Trunk said. “None of the health care providers would tell this poor family what really happened to their mother, and I’m grateful that our more than five-year investigation and prosecution of this case uncovered the truth and provided closure to the family.”
Due to an editing error, the statement from AtlantiCare was omitted in an earlier version of this story. The story has been updated to reflect it.