She didn’t need the risky surgery. County doctors talked her into it anyway, lawsuit says

Bernetta Higgins at her home in Silver Lake
Bernetta Higgins at her home in Silver Lake on June 14, 2022. She says she underwent an unneeded operation at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at the urging of a surgeon who was being paid by a medical device maker. Higgins suffered a stroke during the procedure.
(Melody Petersen / Los Angeles Times)

After a stay at a Los Angeles County public hospital, Bernetta Higgins was home and feeling better when one of the surgeons called.

The doctor, Rodney White, and his nurse told Higgins to return to the emergency room at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and tell the staff she had chest pain, according to an email from the nurse documenting the call. Higgins wasn’t hurting, but she followed the doctor’s orders and went to the ER. White had told her earlier about “a new experimental surgery” that “would take care of it” — a tear in the lining of her aorta.

White signed papers to readmit her and four days later implanted two $15,000 devices into Higgins, then 65. He told her the surgery would take 90 minutes, she testified. Staff wheeled her away in the morning. It wasn’t until night that her mother saw her again. The family learned she had suffered a stroke.