Dr. Atiq Durrani
CINCINNATI – The first plaintiff in hundreds of civil trials of Dr. Atiq Durrani took the stand Wednesday morning, testifying against the former Mason spine surgeon who has fled the country.
"It was stabbing pain before surgery, not constant," said Crystal Pierce. "After surgery it was stabbing, constant pain, but I also felt like when I would move, it felt like someone was taking a knife and just ripping by that scar."
Pierce is one of 175 patients who have filed lawsuits with attorney Eric Deters alleging Durrani performed unnecessary surgeries on them. Pierce and others also contend Durrani's surgery made their conditions worse.
"He was really upset that I had seen another doctor, and them saying that something that was wrong," Pierce testified. "He just kept saying, 'They don't know what I do. They don't know what screws I use. They're in the right place. Nothing is wrong with you.' "
Jury selection began Monday and opening statements concluded by Tuesday evening in Judge Guy C. Guckerberger's courtroom.
When Pierce sued Durrani in June 2010, she claimed Durrani scared her into performing unnecessary spine surgery by telling her she was “in grave danger of becoming immediately paralyzed.” Then he botched the operation, the suit says. The pain ultimately sent her to the emergency room.
Pierce claims another surgeon told her in followup that her pain was the result of screws that Durrani wrongly implanted. After Pierce had another surgeon remove the screws, her pain “resolved almost immediately,” the suit says.
RELATED: See Pierce’s lawsuit or read it below
Durrani’s civil attorney, Michael Lyon, told WCPO Friday that there’s no proof that Durrani was negligent.
“Implementation is necessary in orthopedic spine surgery and sometimes it fails,” Lyon said.
“She (Pierce) is doing very well. We don’t think she’s seeing anyone (for medical treatment). The clear inference is that she doesn’t need it.”
Durrani apparently fled the country when his legal problems reached the tipping point – both Ohio and Kentucky suspended his license in November, citing a 36-count federal indictment against him.
Deters said he plans to file 230 more civil suits against Durrani by the end of February.
It’s believed that Durrani, a Pakistani citizen, fled to his native country, leaving his two children and ex-wife here. The U.S. Attorney’s office put out an arrest warrant for him in December.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t say how Durrani got out of the country without a passport. It’s believed he went to Mexico and flew to Brazil and then to Pakistan.
Last summer, a federal judge released Durrani after his indictment on the condition that Durrani turn over his passport and not travel beyond Ohio and Kentucky. Durrani asked permission to visit his ailing father in Pakistan, but the judge refused.
The indictment and the civil suits claim Durrani performed hundreds of unnecessary surgeries between 2008 and 2013.
RELATED: Read the indictment.
The indictment says Durrani charged public and private insurers millions of dollars for fraudulent services.
Durrani professed his innocence in an exclusive interview with WCPO's Tom McKee last August.
RELATED: Watch McKee's entire interview with Durrani.
Durrani was deposed on Nov. 29, and Judge Ethna Cooper said he could be tried in absentia in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
Trials in the other suits have already been scheduled into 2015 with 14 judges assigned to hear them.
Pierce’s suit originally included Christ Hospital, but Christ was later dismissed.
Durrani’s criminal case is set for Aug. 18.
Durrani owns a private practice called the Centers for Advanced Spine Technologies (CAST) with offices in Evendale and Florence and most recently performed surgeries at JourneyLite in Evendale, where he is part owner. Between 2007 and 2013, Durrani performed surgery at West Chester Hospital UC Health, Children's Hospital, Good Samaritan, Christ and Deaconess, but he no longer has privileges at any of those hospitals, the indictment says.
The government alleges that:
> Durrani’s unnecessary surgeries resulted in serious bodily injury to some patients.
> Durrani would falsely say the patient was at risk of grave injuries without the surgery.
> Durrani often did not read or ignored X-rays that he ordered.
> Durrani would order a pain injection for a level of the spine that was inconsistent with the pain stated by the patient or the imaging.
> Durrani lied to colleagues and hospitals in order to further his scheme.
The indictment says Durrani made false statements to hospitals as part of his application. He concealed peer review or disciplinary activity by other hospitals and malpractice actions that had been filed against him, it says.
It also says Durrani falsely told a patient that
he could not operate on her at West Chester because her insurance could not be accepted there in order to conceal the fact his privileges were suspended.
Deters has sued Children's Hospital on behalf of more than 120 patients, claiming the hospital covered up Durrani’s “incompetence and negligence,” failed to report that he had been fired or resigned in lieu of firing, and paid for settling a lawsuit against him.
Deters’ suit says his clients had surgery from Durrani at West Chester or Journey Lite after Durrani had left Children’s in 2008. It alleges that Children’s withheld “truthful and accurate information” about Durrani and the plaintiffs never would have accepted Durrani’s treatment if they had known his history.
The government also alleges that:
> Durrani scheduled a patient for surgery on Sept. 22, 2010 but allowed another surgeon, who was not approved as a Medicare provider, to do it. Durrani was present only briefly. But the surgery was billed to Medicare and listed Durrani as the primary surgeon.
> Durrani pre-signed blank prescription pads and instructed others to write Oxycodone orders for 12 patients while he was out of the country in 2012 and 2013.
> After leaving a broken guidewire in a patient in 2009, Durrani failed to tell the patient during repeated office visits paid by a healthcare program. When the patient eventually confronted Durrani, the doctor denied leaving the guidewire in the patient. Durrani then recommended another surgery, paid by the healthcare program, and removed the guidewire without telling the patient.