Interview with WLS surgeon who has had several patients who died after
From 60 minutes - Australia
Reporter: Liam Bartlett
Producers: Mick ODonnell
Some people will do just about anything to lose weight. Weird diets,
exhausting exercise regimes, even surgery.
That's when weight loss can get dangerous.
Take the case of Queensland surgeon, Russell Broadbent.
He promises he can make you thin and there's no doubt he can. But there's
also no doubt that it's a risky business.
In fact, six of his patients have died and more are still suffering after
undergoing his treatment.
A particularly drastic form of surgery that involves cutting out a huge
chunk of the stomach.
No wonder other surgeons shy away from this operation, and some hospitals
have banned it.
LIAM BARTLETT: Russell Broadbent is a Gold Coast surgeon with
extraordinary confidence, great self belief. And right now he needs it.
This is a man under siege. His controversial weight-loss surgery is under
investigation following disturbing claims of deaths and complications. Do
you deserve to lose your licence?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: I won't lose my medical practising licence, don't be
LIAM BARTLETT: Won't happen?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: It won't happen. I'm a good doctor, I'm a good
surgeon and I care for my patients and always have done.
LIAM BARTLETT: But the alarming truth is six of Dr Broadbent's patients
have died within a year of his drastic surgery. Others like Hannah Marsden
claim they only just survived after Dr Broadbent's operation.
HANNAH MARSDEN: I have gone to hell and back. I've walked on death's row.
He nearly killed me and I then suffered and continue to suffer to this
day, complications because of what he did.
LIAM BARTLETT: Why do you want Dr Broadbent investigated?
LEESA MacLEOD: I don't want this to happen to anybody else, I don't want
anybody else to suffer like my mother.
LIAM BARTLETT: Dr Broadbent has been carrying out his radical procedure
for the past 12 years, but it wasn't until Leesa MacLeod raised the alarm
about her mother's traumatic death, that health authorities began
LEESA MacLEOD: All of her skin had broken down and it was like, it was
like she didn't even have any skin and it was she was all discoloured,
like a purple colour, and, um, she was bleeding from her mouth and bottom.
LIAM BARTLETT: Ursula MacLeod was 57 when she died just three months
after Dr Broadbent operated on her.
LEESA MacLEOD: It was a horror movie. She had septicaemia and other
infections, she was just constantly oozing this awful stuff and she
couldn't even hold her head up.
LIAM BARTLETT: Was she in pain?
LEESA MacLEOD: Yeah, yeah, she was just the whole time, she was crying,
and not just crying screaming in agony.
LIAM BARTLETT: It seems incredible, but what Dr Broadbent did to Ursula
was literally cut out three-quarters of her stomach and a whole lot more.
It's called bilio pancreatic diversion and this is how it works - The
first step of the operation removes most of the stomach, leaving only a
narrow tube to hold food. Then the surgeon cuts the small bowel to a
fraction about a 10th of its original size and re-attaches it to the
stomach. The short length of bowel means when the patient eats less fat is
absorbed but there's also less nutrients going into the body. And that is
the big problem. patients can literally die from a whole host of
complications caused by malnutrition. When you performed the operation on
Ursula MacLeod, what went wrong?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Nothing went wrong with the operation, the operation
went perfectly normally.
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you telling me that the surgery you performed on Ursula
MacLeod did not cause her death?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Yes, I am. I did not kill Mrs MacLeod.
LIAM BARTLETT: You you know as a medical man that's a cop out?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: It's not a cop out.
LIAM BARTLETT: You know that.
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: It's not, no, it's not.
LIAM BARTLETT: So you cut out three-quarters of her stomach ...
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Yes.
in radical surgery, she died as a result of not getting
enough nutrients, and you say that surgery had nothing to do with it?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: She did not die of not getting enough nutrients, she
died of septicaemia and renal failure.
LIAM BARTLETT: It's there in the notes, Doctor, in all the hospital's
notes the fact that she was completely malnourished comes up time and time
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: I don't think that's the case.
LIAM BARTLETT: For the overweight who have tried and failed with
everything else, Dr Broadbent promises a remarkably effective solution,
and after years of struggling with her obesity, Ursula MacLeod desperately
wanted to be thin.
LEESA MacLEOD: I think Dr Broadbent painted a very good picture.
LIAM BARTLETT: You feel he made it sound more rosy than it really is?
LEESA MacLEOD: I think so.
LIAM BARTLETT: And in that way somehow convinced her that it was the way
LEESA MacLEOD: Yes, and if she didn't have this surgery that she would
most likely die within the next couple of years.
LIAM BARTLETT: But soon after the operation, things started going wrong.
Three times she was re-admitted to hospital, and fed through an
intravenous tube, but her condition only worsened.
LEESA MacLEOD: I said, 'You know you're going to be alright, aren't you,
Mum?' and she said, 'Yeah, I am, I'm going to be alright' and like she was
trying, she was really trying so hard. She was trying to survive, she
hadn't given up at that point.
LIAM BARTLETT: Did she realize that she'd made a big mistake by having the
LEESA MacLEOD: Yeah, I'm sure that she did, yeah.
LIAM BARTLETT: How much responsibility do you take for the death of Ursula
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Miss MacLeod, I ... I... There must be some
responsibility fall on me in some way, but, uh, and possibly the real
mistake is perhaps in operating on her in the first instance.
LIAM BARTLETT: You shouldn't have done it?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Well, if I'd known the outcome, that's quite right.
LIAM BARTLETT: You and the other surgeons here at this hospital won't do
DR MICHAEL TALBOT: No.
LIAM BARTLETT: Why not?
DR MICHAEL TALBOT: Because the complication rate we know will be higher
than the complication rate that we're prepared to accept.
LIAM BARTLETT: Sydney surgeon Michael Talbot won't do bilio pancreatic
DR MICHAEL TALBOT: It's such a hard procedure to get right sometimes I
think which is why so few people do it.
LIAM BARTLETT: But more and more, he and his colleagues are undoing the
operation, reversing as best they can this dangerous procedure.
DR MICHAEL TALBOT: It's at least 10-20 times riskier than some of the more
common procedures and that's made it a difficult thing for most people to
do in the real world.
LIAM BARTLETT: Would you describe yourself as a risk taker?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: I wouldn't say I'm a risk taker, we ... everything
in life is a risk, everything in surgery is a risk. Most of the patients I
deal with, and I deal with thousands of patients, want to accept the risks
of what we are doing for them in order to obtain the benefits.
LIAM BARTLETT: He didn't highlight any of the problems?
HANNAH MARSDEN: No, he mentioned that there could be complications, but he
played that down. I asked him about that death mortality rate and he told
me he'd never lost a patient.
LIAM BARTLETT: It was Dr Broadbent's confident talk of safe weight loss
that attracted Hannah Marsden. At 125kg she was obese. Hannah was able to
lose 35 kilos by dieting but when she had the operation serious
HANNAH MARSDEN: What I didn't realise was that my body was critically ill.
LIAM BARTLETT: Shutting down?
HANNAH MARSDEN: It was shutting down, slowly shutting down. I was either
vomiting up black bile that looked like tar or I was diarrhoeaing I'll
be honest orange, iridescent orange fluid out of my body, and so it was
coming out of all sorts of places.
LIAM BARTLETT: In the following months, things got much worse. Hannah's
weight plummeted to 42kg. She went from obese to a stick-thin anorexic,
barely able to walk. Her family couldn't believe how sick she became.
HAYDEN MARSDEN: You can only listen to your mum and that screaming in pain
and throwing up for so long.
HANNAH MARSDEN'S DAUGHTER: The smell was really scary and it just felt
like she wasn't going to be around much longer.
HANNAH MARSDEN: He took me back into surgery He didn't fix it again. He
actually didn't know how to fix it, he told my relatives, including my
children, to prepare for me not to make it through. DR
RUSSELL BROADBENT: Are you suggesting Hannah was actually on her death
LIAM BARTLETT: She was very close to death, yes.
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: That's nonsense, absolute nonsense.
LIAM BARTLETT: Why do you say it's nonsense?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Well, it was. Did she allege she was close to death?
LIAM BARTLETT: Most certainly.
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: What's it ... she was not.
LIAM BARTLETT: She was fine? She was fine, was she?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: She was
that was a gross exaggeration of the
HANNAH MARSDEN: One evening, he came in and he held my hand, and he
apologised to me and he told me he was trying ...
LIAM BARTLETT: He said sorry?
HANNAH MARSDEN: He said 'sorry' and that he was trying trying to get me
well, and that's when I plummeted. I ... I have my children to think of,
and when I was in and out of consciousness, I was listening to my son cry,
and that's when I was determined that I had to get well.
LIAM BARTLETT: Why did you apologise to her?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Why did I apologise to her?
LIAM BARTLETT: Mmm, why did you say sorry?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: This young lady spent more time in hospital than she
anticipated. I said sorry to all my patients. Just saying sorry to a
patient is not an admission of guilt of any sort.
LIAM BARTLETT: Hannah Marsden was in hospital at the same time Leesa
MacLeod's mother, Ursula, was dying.
HANNAH MARSDEN: I was sitting with your mum only weeks before.
LIAM BARTLETT: Now Hannah and Leesa have joined forces to warn others
about the dangers of Dr Broadbent's operation.
to try and, not only get justice for my mother's death
but to stop this from happening to others.
LIAM BARTLETT: As more and more people like Hannah and Leesa tell their
stories, Queensland Health Authorities have been forced to act, to
investigate. And Russell Broadbent's been forced to defend himself. The
Queensland Medical Board found, and I quote, 'serious deficiencies' in
your practice, doctor?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: And in ... in what practice?
LIAM BARTLETT: Serious deficiencies in your practice ...
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: In what practice?
which may place other patients at serious
life-threatening risk. That's a decision by the Queensland Medical Board,
and according to them you're a menace, aren't you?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Well, according to that, but that is wrong, of
course, and, of course, that is being appealed and it will eventually be
reversed simply on the ground it is totally illogical.
LIAM BARTLETT: They're wrong, too?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Well ...
LIAM BARTLETT: Everyone's wrong?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: That is ... that is definitely wrong.
LIAM BARTLETT: With so much controversy, Dr Broadbent wanted us to meet
what he claims is one of his many success stories, and Margaret Nelson,
and her family, are certainly pleased with her results. Did anybody say,
'Hey, Mum, this is pretty radical surgery? Are you sure you've thought
MARGARET NELSON'S DAUGHTER: Not really, we were more worried about her
LIAM BARTLETT: She lost 40kg after her operation, and says she's had no
negative side effects.
MARGARET NELSON: Apart from my family the best thing I ever did was have
the surgery. Nothing else worked for me and it has improved my life so
much that I am now happier and healthier than being overweight with a
limited life span and major health problems most probably.
LIAM BARTLETT: The only minor inconvenience for Margaret is the strict
regime of vitamin supplements she needs to keep her healthy. If you didn't
have these twice a day every day of your life, what would happen?
MARGARET NELSON: You could develop deficiencies and that will make you
LIAM BARTLETT: But things are completely different for Hannah Marsden.
It's four years on from her operation, but there are still never-ending
complications and constant reminders of just how frail she is, especially
at meal times.
HANNAH MARSDEN: And I will probably only eat half of that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Half of that?
HANNAH MARSDEN: And it will be cold because I process different. If I eat
that hot, I will vomit it up.
LIAM BARTLETT: And even worse, her violent bouts of sickness can happen at
HANNAH MARSDEN: We can be out at events or I'll be driving the car and
suddenly I will say, 'Somebody take the steering wheel because I'm
vomiting', and I just have to vomit.
LIAM BARTLETT: What even now?
HANNAH MARSDEN: Even now, yeah.
HANNAH'S HUSBAND: Pretty scary when you're driving along the road and your
partner's vomiting her heart out.
LIAM BARTLETT: Now this story is far from over. The Gold Coast hospitals
where Russell Broadbent operates have banned the procedure because they
can't get insurance to cover the risk. Meanwhile, the Queensland Health
Practioners' Tribunal is continuing its investigation, and Dr Broadbent is
hoping he'll be exonerated so he can keep doing what he says is giving
real hope to the obese.
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: These are the people who John West would reject if
they were fish. These are the patients that no other surgeon will tackle.
I don't see too many obesity surgeons lining up to do these operations
because they're difficult.
LIAM BARTLETT: So you're a trailblazer, are you?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: Well, I have been a trailblazer. Just watch this
IAM BARTLETT: You'll prove them all wrong?
DR RUSSELL BROADBENT: I will
and just watch it.