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WRONG EYE SURGERY GIVES IDAHOAN A TROUBLING VISION

The patient lay sedated on the operating table, halfway through surgery on both eyes, when his doctor asked, "How are you feeling, Richard?"

Unfortunately, the patient wasn't Richard. It was Randy - Randy Smith of Boise."I just figured he got the names confused," Smith said. "Plus, I was doing pretty good on the Valium."

But when Smith's vision failed to improve days after his radial kera-totomy surgery, the Boise man learned the confusion was more serious: The doctor had mixed up two patients' charts and performed Richard's radial kera-totomy surgery on Randy.

In recent weeks, medical mix-ups involving drugs and surgery have grabbed headlines nationwide.

Records are public only when the board takes formal action against a physician. Only one doctor practicing in Idaho was formally disciplined last year.

The federal government's National Practitioner Data Bank stores information on doctors - from disciplinary actions to malpractice settlements. But it is available only to hospitals, insurance companies, medical boards and doctors.

The American Medical Association, which represents the nation's doctors, urges the public not to get too worked up.

"The thing to put in perspective with these kinds of mistakes - which are indefensible - is that every day there are 9 million interactions between patients and physicians, and 99.9 percent of those are successful," said Kirk Johnson, general counsel for the American Medical Association.

Because no lawsuit has been filed in this case, the name of the doctor and the clinic are withheld from this story. Smith hopes to work out a settlement with the doctor's malpractice insurance company.

Smith and his wife learned the bad news about his eyes after complaining to the doctor several days after surgery. The doctor called the couple to his office and then admitted the error.

Smith needed four surgical incisions in each eye to correct his vision. Richard needed eight.

The doctor who performed the surgery returned his $3,000 fee, but that wasn't good enough, Smith said.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple, said Smith, who works as an electrical estimator.

Smith, who was near-sighted, now is far-sighted.

Smith's case may never make it into court. Kevin Marchand's did. It became one of the most infamous malpractice cases in Idaho.

In 1987, Marchand, then 30, was crushed at the Amalgamated Sugar Co. plant in Nampa. Marchand was rushed to Mercy Medical Center in Nampa where a surgeon, radiologist and emergency-room doctor failed to diagnose Marchand's fractured spine, a jury later decided. As a result, he was paralyzed from the waist down within 24 hours.