Elderly man has wrong leg amputated at Austrian clinic

An Austrian hospital amputated the wrong leg of a patient, it said on Thursday, blaming human error for what it called a “tragic mistake”.

The elderly patient was suffering from many illnesses, the Freistadt Clinic, in a town of the same name near the Czech border, said in a statement. Previous sicknesses have affected his legs, to the point that his left leg required amputation.

“We are deeply shocked that on Tuesday, 18 May, despite quality assurance standards, the wrong leg of an 82-year-old man … was amputated,” the clinic said, adding that the mistake was first noticed during a bandage change on Thursday morning.

“We have to find out how this failure, this mistake could happen. I would like to apologise publicly here,” the clinic’s medical director, Norbert Fritsch, said at a news conference.

Austrian news outlet Heute reported that the patient did not initially recognise the mistake, because of his illness. It also said the 82-year-old was asked to confirm beforehand, but his articulation was limited, it reported Fritsch saying.

The error appears to have been made shortly before the operation, when the leg that was to be amputated was marked, the clinic said.

“Unfortunately the mistake, in which the right leg was removed instead of the left, occurred as a result of a sequence of unfortunate circumstances,” it said, adding that it was investigating what happened and would review its standards.

The patient has been offered psychological assistance and must still undergo another operation to remove his left leg from mid-thigh.

“The operation is planned shortly,” the clinic said.