Col. Connell's Wrong Site Surgery

Col. Adele Connell served our country for 36 years in Texas, Alabama, Indiana, Germany and the Pentagon. She raised four kids, three of whom serve in the military today. And she also survived breast cancer. However, she will be spending the rest of her life dealing with the ramifications of a botched surgery that removed the wrong breast.

Upon medical out processing, Connell learned she had breast cancer in her left breast. She requested a return home to have her operation close to family that could take care of her.  The Army denied that request and instead told her she would undergo the procedure at Walter Reed.  At first, Connell was reassured of her doctor’s credentials: the doctor was a retired Army Colonel and Yale grad. However, when Connell booked an appointment the doctor was too busy to see her and sent an intern instead. Connell rescheduled but it happened yet again.  After expressing her disappointment the second time, the doctor only arrived as Connell was headed out the door.

Because she was active duty, Connell had no choice of hospital or doctor. Since she wasn’t allowed to have the surgery in her Utah home, her daughter Melanie flew to Washington, D.C. to help care for her.  The surgery should have gone well, but it didn't.  

Melanie recalls the doctor boasting “We have removed all of the cancer from your mother’s right breast.”  

“But my mother’s cancer is in the left breast!” Melanie exclaimed.

It was suddenly clear that Adele Connell had been the victim of a devastating medical error.  The doctor neither paid attention to Connell’s medical records nor her pathology report prior to surgery. As a result of the doctor’s clear negligence, Connell unnecessarily had 16 lymph nodes, virtually all of them, removed on the right side of her body. Today, she lives with severe, constant burning and tingling in half of her right arm at all times. And she has no protection from infection on the right side of her body.

But the story has a more tragic turn.  Had Connell been a civilian -- and not a soldier committed to serving our country -- she might have tried to hold that physician accountable in court.  But that isn't an option for our servicemen and women because of a misguided federal law known as the Feres doctrine.  It robs members of our military of their legal rights, and leaves those like Col. Adele Connell without justice.  Connell’s three children have also dedicated their life to serving our country and they too would have limited rights should another travesty occur.

The men and women of our armed services deserve better.