Widow of gastric bypass patient wants to warn others

Mark Gratta looked the picture of health when he played on the Hingham High School football team 28 years ago.

"I remember thinking, 'He's so handsome and in such good shape,'" said Louise Gratta, who is now his widow.

In 2004, the 43-year-old contractor from Hingham tried to solve his lifelong weight problem by having a gastric bypass... The Grattas researched the surgery before Mark made his decision and found nothing to dissuade him, Louise Gratta said.

He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 366 pounds, giving him a body-mass index of 58...

He died of a massive infection eight days after the surgery. His surgeon at Boston Medical Center, left five surgical sponges inside Gratta's abdomen. But he denies that is what caused the infection.

His widow, who filed a wrongful death suit, wants his death to serve as a cautionary tale for tens of thousands of Americans considering gastric bypass surgery.

"People need to be warned," she said. "Ask yourself: 'Would you rather be dead than live the way you are" Mark didn't feel that way." ...

Risks of gastric bypass range from death to nutritional deficiencies. Up to 5 percent of patients die within 30 days, studies show. Other potential short-term complications include damage to the intestine, bleeding, clots and wound infections.

Long-term problems can include breaks in the staple line, dehydration, iron and vitamin deficiencies, bowel obstructions and twisted bowel, ulcers and gallbladder disease, according to a review of research by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association...

Mark Gratta turned to surgery after trying diet after diet and failing, said Louise Gratta, 44. He didn't yet have heart disease, diabetes or other serious health problems, but he... wanted to see his children, Anna, 14, and Mark, 15, grow up. "He just loved his family and wanted to be around for them," she said.

His surgery began as a laparoscopic procedure. But he developed bleeding during the operation and Forse decided to open his abdomen for a conventional procedure...

Gratta developed a fever after the surgery, and he could not breathe on his own. All antibiotics failed, and his body temperature rose to 108 degrees state Department of Public Health found...

The radiologist who looked at the X-rays told the state investigator that he had been looking for evidence of leaks and had misinterpreted the sponges as surgical drains.

Louise Gratta named Boston Medical Center, the surgeon, the radiologist and three other doctors in the wrongful death suit.

All except two doctors who were recently added to the suit have filed answers to the suit denying wrongdoing...

"We want to stop this surgery until more work is done," said Mark's sister, Maria Pagnani of Hanson. "People are getting hurt and maimed. This has to stop."

The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Thursday, January 15, 2004

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