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Spring Hill woman sues after seven back surgeries

A Hernando County woman is suing Hudson physician Alfred O. Bonati, accusing the doctor of performing unnecessary surgery and leaving her with a leak in her spinal column.

The lawsuit filed this week by Nancy Sutherland of Spring Hill accuses Bonati of subjecting patients to needless operations and overbilling them.

Also named as a defendant in Sutherland's court filing is Bonati Institute International, of which Bonati is president. In addition, the court filing said three other doctors at the Bonati Institute committed malpractice in treating Sutherland.

Bonati could not be reached for comment on the case.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney James W. Clark of Tampa, offers the following account of Sutherland's treatment at the institute:

After Sutherland's office visit, Bonati recommended surgery for her back pain. Following that advice, Sutherland underwent seven operations in as many months.

The most recent of the procedures was on March 13, 1997. During that surgery, the sheath surrounding Sutherland's spine was punctured and began to leak cerebrospinal fluid.

Doctors at the Bonati Institute attempted to fix the leak but were unsuccessful. Although Sutherland's spine continued to leak fluid, staff at the institute sent her home to rest in bed.

Two weeks later, with her spine still leaking, Sutherland began to have severe headaches. Her husband, Kenneth, called the Bonati Institute and was told to give her a prescription painkiller and drive her to the clinic.

Instead, Sutherland called an ambulance and had his wife taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

The court filing accuses Bonati of malpractice, saying he failed to tell Sutherland that his procedures were experimental. In addition, the lawsuit said, Bonati misrepresented Mrs. Sutherland's need for the surgery and performed procedures with an eye toward his own financial interests rather than her medical condition.

The other doctors named in the lawsuit are Dr. Michael Perry, Dr. Chester Janecki and Dr. David Hirschauer. Court papers also accuse registered nurse M. Buliga of negligence in treating Sutherland.

The Sutherlands and Clark did not return messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit Monday comes six weeks after the state Agency for Health Care Administration filed an administrative complaint accusing Bonati of mistreating 18 patients between 1986 and 1996. In some cases, Bonati performed several surgeries that failed to improve the patient's condition, AHCA said.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

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