Last month, I blogged about an unfortunate Florida woman who had a normal kidney removed because a surgeon thought it was a tumor. She was undergoing spinal fusion surgery at the time and the “tumor” was discovered incidentally.

What could be worse than that?

How about removal of both normal kidneys thinking they were cancerous?

That’s what allegedly happened to a 73-year-old Colorado woman who is now undergoing hemodialysis three times a week. She told Denver television station KDVR that doctors said she needed the surgery because of probable cancer in both kidneys.

However, KDVR says it has a copy of a pathology report of biopsies taken in March 2018 stating that there was no evidence of cancer and the slides were “consistent with a benign process.”

She underwent bilateral nephrectomies in May and the pathology report from the surgery showed no cancer in either kidney.

The patient has retained an attorney and is exploring the possibility of a lawsuit. She said, “Dialysis is no picnic no matter how used to it you get, it robs you of your life.”

She waiting to be put on the kidney transplant list, but with 95,000 people ahead of her, it may take as long as seven years before she receives a new kidney. Several people have offered to donate one, but so far, their blood types were not compatible with hers.

One would like to hear the hospital’s side of the story, but a hospital spokeswoman said, “I don’t have any information for you about this.”

KDVR reported the hospital had not apologized or explained what happened despite the patient saying she was willing to sign a privacy release form.

An apology might not help in this case, but it probably couldn’t hurt. If the allegation is true, the hospital should not only explain what happened but also what it has done to prevent it from happening again.

About two months elapsed between the biopsies and the nephrectomies. Almost every hospital has a weekly or every other week multidisciplinary tumor conference where complicated or unusual neoplasm cases are presented. Surely the tumor board at the university hospital where the woman’s kidney surgery occurred must have discussed the case. What course of treatment was recommended?

What about the appearance of the kidneys at surgery? Did either kidney contain any areas that looked malignant? Could biopsies have been done?

We have heard only one side of the story, but it is hard to imagine a scenario justifying the removal of both kidneys in this situation.


Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last 8 years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 3,000,000 page views, and he has over 18,000 followers on Twitter.