TAMPA — Dr. Richard Karl, the founding medical director at Moffitt Cancer Center, hired Dr. Scott Kelley in the department of surgery there after he completed a two-year fellowship in 2003.
Kelley "was a highly talented guy. Great interpersonal skills,'' Karl said on Tuesday.
"He and his wife were very charming when I knew them back then."
Karl, who now is a surgeon in the department of Gastrointestinal Oncology, said he hasn't been in touch with Kelley since he left Moffitt. He remembers him as "just a great guy, warm, welcoming, a great surgeon, an Ivy League pedigree.''
The Kelleys were known for their "extravagant parties; there was always more than you could possibly eat," he said.
In addition to his position at Moffitt, he held various faculty positions at USF Health between 2003 and 2010, according to university records.
He was an "excellent surgeon. Great personality. Well-liked by staff and colleagues. Easy to work with when we had joint patients together,'' wrote a former Moffitt colleague, Dr. Tapan Padhya, in an e-mail to the Times on Tuesday.
Padhya is director of the division of head and neck oncology at USF Health, and part of the head and neck oncology program at Moffitt.
He said Kelley moved to Lakeland to start a esophageal cancer/surgical oncology program at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
He established his practice in 2008 at the 200-physician Watson Clinic in Lakeland, a well-regarded practice that's one of the biggest in the area. In a year-old, online video from the Watson clinic, Kelley talks about pioneering single incision laparascopic surgery in Lakeland for colon and gallbladder procedures, saying they offer quicker recovery times with less scarring.
Officials at the Watson clinic declined comment on Tuesday.
State health department records indicate that Kelley has a clear and active license with no record of complaints.
However, in September, Kelley and surgeon Andrew Sherman were sued for the wrongful 2010 death of a man named Steven B. Schubert who, according to the suit, died a "slow and painful death" as the result of an ill-planned hernia surgery.
Schubert, a 48-year-old pilot, husband and father-of-two, had a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the abdominal cavity, which allowed some of the contents of his abdomen to get pushed up into his chest cavity. According to family attorney Andrew Yaffa, Kelley did not take into account that Schubert was slim and in shape, and after the surgery, there was not enough space in his abdomen to fit the contents that were pushed back in.
He was dead two weeks after the surgery, a result of end-stage organ failure.
"He died a horrible, slow death right in front of his wife and two daughters," Yaffa said. "He was her soul mate. They had a great family life. The family is devastated and ruined over the loss of this man."
Yaffa said the surgery was unnecessary, and the suit says Schubert saw two doctors before Kelley who said he did not need surgery.
Kelley, who has not yet filed a court response to the suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Times staff writers Alexandra Zayas and Letitia Stein contributed to this report.