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Airman Loses Legs After Gallbladder Operation

A 20-year-old airman was in critical condition at University of California Davis Medical Center on Monday, after losing both legs in what his family described as complications of routine gallbladder surgery.

Neither the medical center nor Travis Air Force Base, where Airman 1st Class Colton Read underwent surgery this month, would comment on specifics of his case.

Travis said only that a “serious medical incident” occurred at its David Grant Medical Center on July 9 and is being investigated by the base, a national hospital accrediting commission and the U.S. Surgeon General.

Read, who was stationed at Beale Air Force Base east of Marysville, Calif., was supposed to get his gallbladder removed laparoscopically at the Travis hospital, said his wife, Jessica Read.


Instead, a device being threaded into his belly nicked or punctured the aorta, a large artery that carries blood from the heart throughout the body, she said.

Surgeons opened his abdomen and were able to repair the breach well enough to save his life, but in the process or afterward, something apparently disrupted the blood supply to his legs.

Jessica Read said she was told the aorta was sewn together incompletely and began leaking, and her husband was flown to UC Davis Medical Center late that afternoon for more specialized vascular surgery.

The UC Davis surgeon who operated on Colton Read that two branching vessels from the aorta that carry blood to the legs were clotted and closed.

When the surgeon restored the blood supply to those iliac vessels, the legs were so badly swollen and damaged that blood circulated only down to the knees, leaving dead tissue below.

Colton Read has undergone surgeries that removed first the lower-right leg, then the lower-left and more of the right, his wife said. Hines said he had “a hard time understanding how he ended up with no legs … how you leave an operation without assuring that there is blood flow.”

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