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Patient Wants $2.65 Million After OHSU Allegedly Inserted Implant That Blocked Tumor Scans 

Lawsuit contends doctors should have known the implant could block MRI imaging needed to track woman’s condition.
Photo of hospital building.
OHSU Hospital on Marquam Hill. | LYNNE TERRY/THE LUND REPORT
September 8, 2022

A patient who had a hearing implant inserted then removed at Oregon Health & Science University has sued the teaching hospital, saying providers there should have known it would interfere with MRI scans of a tumor in her skull.

The suit, on behalf of Cynthia Wilkes, said that in 2018, an OHSU surgical team removed from her left inner ear a tumor known as a vestibular schwannoma. According to the National Institutes of Health, such a tumor — known as an acoustic neuroma — is benign but can cause dizziness, loss of balance, tinnitus and hearing loss.

In January 2020, a surgical team at OHSU removed part of her skull to implant a “Bonebridge” device intended to help her hearing. It was secured with screws in the bone behind her left ear.

However, in September of that year, an attempt to perform an MRI scan on Wilkes was unsuccessful due to the device, according to the suit: “The presence of the Bonebridge implant interfered with the MRI scan to such an extent that the area of plaintiff’s tumor was not visible on the MRI Images.” 

As a result, the suit continued, OHSU was “unable to determine” whether her tumor was “re-growing or recurring.”

A week later, the suit claimed, her providers at OHSU told her that unless the device was removed, MRIs would not be able to track her tumor.

In January of 2021, an OHSU surgical team removed the device, including its screws, from Wilkes’ skull, the suit said.

A spokesperson for the university told The Lund Report, “In light of patient privacy laws and ongoing litigation, OHSU cannot discuss or comment on this case.”

The suit faulted OHSU, saying, “As a result of Defendant OHSU’s negligence, Plaintiff underwent two unnecessary and painful skull surgeries, had prolonged healing, has severe tinnitus, severe headaches, intermittent double vision, loss of enjoyment of life, interference with her usual and customary activities, and has suffered severe emotional distress.”

It also claimed her physicians failed to secure her “ informed consent … by failing to explain to Plaintiff the material risk of the device interfering with future MRI scans which were necessary to evaluate whether her tumor was re-growing or recurring.”

The suit, filed by Portland lawyer Bob Wagner of Miller and Wagner LLP, claimed non-economic damages of $2.5 million, $100,000 to cover her medical expenses, and $50,000 for future medical care that she’s expected to require.

The Bonebridge implant is made by the firm Med-El, and is advertised as MRI-safe. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on Twitter.