Surgery at Altru Health System left Bob Klade blind and deaf

Imagine being awake and not knowing it.

Imagine being awake and not knowing it.

On December 11, 2012, Bob Klade was set to go under the knife. The Thief River Falls man had known about his aortic aneurysm for several years, but it hadn’t caused him any pain. After chatting with friends and family, Klade decided to have reparative surgery on the ballooned artery, which carries blood to the stomach and lower body, before something bad happened.

Little did he know that he would leave the operating room in far worse condition.

“It was a serious operation, but the exact words of the surgeon were three, four days in the hospital, maybe a pint of blood and 90 days you’ll be back at 100 percent,” Klade recalls.

According to a complaint, Klade lost nearly seven pints of blood during the surgery at Altru Health Systems in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The doctor’s report listed no other complications and the U.S. Army vet went to the recovery room that afternoon in stable condition. A few hours later docs noticed that his blood pressure was unstable. After concerns that Klade was bleeding internally, he went back into the operating room where Dr. Scott Charette discovered “a significant amount of blood” was filling his abdomen, though the source of the bleeding was unclear, the complaint states.

Klade remained in critical condition following his second surgery, heavily sedated and hooked up to a ventilator. For several weeks Klade was “confused and disoriented” and wasn’t responding to his family or doctors. The MDs believed he suffered a brain injury and was in a coma. No one – including Klade – knew that he had actually come to. He just couldn’t see or hear.

“I was very much under the understanding that I was dreaming in my own mind,” Klade says. “Because of the fact that I couldn’t see and speech was very muffled, just like it is a lot of times in dreams, I really never knew that I was awake.”

It took Klade’s son speaking directly into his right ear to jar him from his presumptive dream state. Though he could barely hear Klade asked his wife, Annette, if he was in fact awake. Yes, she told him.

“That’s when I got scared.”

Klade’s lawyer, Brandon Thompson, alleges that doctors’ failure to reverse a drug that fights blood clots and promptly diagnose Klade’s internal bleeding led to his injuries. Though reversing the drug is not always required, Thompson says it’s something “most surgeons” would do.

“The first things that the doctors should be thinking about are is this man bleeding internally and what can we do to stop that from happening?” Thompson says.

In July, Thompson and the Klades filed a malpractice lawsuit against Altru. While the complaint states they are suing for upwards of $75,000, Thompson says they’re seeking “multiple millions” of dollars. A scheduling hearing is slated for September 16.

An Altru spokesperson did not return requests for comment Friday. However, the hospital’s attorney Randy Hanson says Klade was explained the inherent risks of the surgery and that Altru doctors followed protocol.

“Like most things in medicine there are different ways of doing things,” he says. “My understanding from the doctors that we have talked to is that the methodologies that our people used were appropriate.”

Meanwhile, Klade has spent the last two years learning to cope with his blindness and severe hearing impairment. He’s able to converse by phone using a hearing device, but social settings are nearly impossible. The 62-year-old had to give up a job he loved as an international technical coordinator with Arctic Cat, his employer for nearly 20 years. Due to health issues of her own, Annette is unable to work and the couple had to find a cheaper home to swing the cost of Bob’s care.

Last week Klade returned from an intensive VA program in Chicago, where he spent more than four months learning skills to help him live as independently as possible. While he learned a lot during his stay, Klade says he still has a long way to go.

“Everything has been turned upside down,” he says. “It’s like I’m starting all over again in life and it’s scary.”