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St. Petersburg surgeon accused of malpractice in death of Chicago doctor

A St. Petersburg surgeon is being sued for medical malpractice in the death of a Chicago doctor on whom he performed an appendectomy last year.

The plaintiff in the suit is the late doctor's husband, who is also a physician.

Dr. Ernest Rehnke, 57, is accused of negligence in his care of Dr. Sukunya Susie Dunphy, 42, who died on July 31, 2009, at Palms of Pasadena Hospital in St. Petersburg, two days after undergoing a laparoscopic appendectomy. The suit was filed June 17 in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on behalf of Dunphy's husband, Dr. James P. Dunphy.

Sukunya Dunphy was admitted to Palms on the afternoon of July 29, 2009, complaining of abdominal pain, according to the lawsuit. After it was determined she had an inflamed appendix, Rehnke performed the appendectomy that evening. The suit claims that Dunphy's blood pressure began to drop while her heart rate climbed in the hours after the surgery, and that neither Rehnke nor the nursing staff adequately monitored her condition.

The suit also claims that Sukunya Dunphy told the nursing staff that she was a medical doctor and was not being cared for properly because her blood pressure was too low. But despite her pleas, the nursing staff did not call or notify Rehnke and instead wrote in her chart that she was engaged in "attention seeking behavior."

Sukunya Dunphy was later found to be "pulseless, unresponsive and without respiration or blood pressure" on the afternoon of July 30, and was declared dead the next day, according to the suit. Her cause of death was post-operative bleeding.

The suit claims that Rehnke, among other things, failed to review Sukunya Dunphy's medical chart and failed to diagnose her post-operative bleeding.

Rehnke, who is one of the Tampa Bay area's better known bariatric, or weight-loss, surgeons, could not be reached for comment on Friday. The plaintiff's attorney, Mark Perenich, also could not be reached for comment.

Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330.

St. Petersburg surgeon accused of malpractice in death of Chicago doctor 07/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 2, 2010 9:35pm]
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