Dr. Pervaiz Chaudhry, a Pakistani American heart surgeon in Fresno, Calif., March 1 was ruled negligent by a Fresno County Superior Court jury for leaving the operating room and letting his physician assistant close the chest of a 70-year-old patient.
The jury voted 11-to-1 following eight hours of deliberations spanning two days.
In deciding on the verdict, the jury believed Chaudhry's negligence was a substantial factor that led to Silvino Perez, now 76, falling into a coma, which he is still in today, nearly six years since the surgery, according to a Fresno Bee report.
The same jury will return March 6 to hear testimony to determine whether Chaudhry had safety violations with past patients, the report said.
Should the jury find his past conduct malicious or oppressive, it could lead to him paying punitive damages to Cristobal Arteaga, the stepson of Perez, the publication noted.
Arteaga also sued the Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, where the surgery took place, but the two sides reached a confidential settlement before the trial began, according to the Bee.
During Chaudhry’s trial, the plaintiff’s legal team accused the doctor of leaving the operating room for a noon business meeting at a northeast Fresno restaurant. Chaudhry's lawyer, James M. Goodman, however, told the jury that Chaudhry was not negligent because Perez suffered "an extremely rare complication," the report said.
The doctor testified that he supervised the closing of Perez's chest by his physician assistant, Bella Albakova, and another surgeon, Dr. Kalwant Dhillon, it said.
Chaudhry testified that he left the operating room after Perez was in stable condition with no surgical bleeding, the report added.
Albakova, however, told the jury that Chaudhry exited before Perez's chest was closed, the Bee reported, adding that the assistant testified that Dhillon helped her wire Perez's sternum back together and stitch up fat and muscle tissues, but she was left alone to stitch up the skin.
Supporters describe Chaudhry as a brilliant heart surgeon who performs high-risk surgeries to save lives, the publication said.
At the time of the surgery, there were other people in the operating room, including anesthesiologist Dr. Ashwin Bhatt and several nurses, the report said. They were there to assist Chaudhry in replacing Perez's aortic heart valve and repair an aortic aneurysm, it said.
Adams Yussif of the California Department of Public Health testified during the trial that he was assigned to investigate Perez's surgery. He testified that three nurses in the operating room told him that Chaudhry left, leaving Albakova in charge of closing Perez's chest.
But in the trial, the nurses gave a different account or couldn't recall whether Chaudhry left, the report said.
Additionally, perfusionist Aaron Schreur, who operated the heart and lung machine during Perez's surgery, wrote in his notes that Albakova and Dhillon completed closing the patient's chest nearly 20 minutes after Chaudhry said he left the operating room. He also noted that the patient was bleeding, the publication said.
Chaudhry testified that Schreur's notes were incorrect.
The defendant testified that he had just arrived at Campagnia Bistro near Woodward Park when he received a telephone call on his cellphone about Perez being in distress, the report said.
After he told his associates he had to return to the hospital, he testified he rushed back to assist medical staff and Albakova in saving Perez's life, it added.
Chaudhry received his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan. He did his residency in general surgery at Henry Ford Hospital at Wayne State, and then a thoracic surgery fellowship at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., following which he joined the Valley Cardiac Surgery Medical Group in Fresno.