Vital Signs Blog

Play examines tragic surgery from patient, doctor perspectives

Lady from Limerick,” a play revolving around a tragic surgery and being performed in a 60-seat New York theater, is attracting an audience that includes doctors, lawyers, insurance company representatives and patient advocates.

Based on a 2005 true story, the play tells what happened to Kathleen Kelly Cregan, a woman from Limerick, Ireland, who went alone to New York where she died from post-plastic surgery complications. Written by Long Island Business News reporter Claude Solnik, the play is sparking conversations because of its sympathetic portrayal of the patient who died and the physician who performed the surgery.

“At first, it made me feel angry,” said patient-safety advocate Ilene Corina, whose 3-year-old son died in 1990 after a tonsillectomy. “As a journalist, the author is not taking sides. He didn't want it all to be about this woman who died, but about a system that lets people down.”

The doctor's character is one who, despite 33 malpractice settlements, maintains a high-end Park Avenue practice and has a slick marketing campaign extending across the Atlantic to Ireland where it reaches the lead character.

With the intent of coming back home to surprise her husband with a new look, the woman tells her family she's going to attend a conference in Dublin.

Safety advocates tell patients to never undergo operations without a friend or family member at the hospital, Corina noted. Would Cregan's story would have been different if someone had come along to watch out for her, Corina wondered.

The play includes a monologue from the surgeon telling his side of the tragedy, something, Corina said, that most victims of medical error never hear.

“It was very healing to me,” Corina said, explaining that she and her son's doctor were kept separated.

“This gives me some view about what his turmoil was like,” she said. “We never know, because we're not allowed to talk to them.”

Corina's experience led her to found Persons United Limiting Substandards and Errors in healthcare, or PULSE, of New York which produced the play. She is also on the National Patient Safety Foundation board of governors and was just elected to her fourth term on the board of the Joint Commission.

The purpose of the play is to highlight the story behind the patients whose bad outcomes become medical injury statistics, Corina said. It opened last weekend at Manhattan's Theater for the New City and has four more performances scheduled for April 17-20. Discussions are held after each performance.

“The talkback usually revolves around 'Who do we blame?' and 'Do we need to blame someone?'” she said. “It also gets into why women feel the need to make these changes.” The performances have all been near sell-outs, Corina said.

Earlier this year, a theater group in Brooklyn was performing another healthcare-related work, “The Death of Bessie Smith,” a 1960 play that recounts the apocryphal tale of the blues singer being refused treatment at a segregated hospital after a car wreck. Those performances were at Brooklyn's Interfaith Medical Center which was facing imminent closure.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks


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