Botched Surgery Leaves Airman as Double Amputee

Routine gallbladder surgery turns into "serious medical incident"

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What was supposed to be a routine surgery at Northern California's Travis Air Force Base has turned into a nightmare for an Air Force airman and his family.

Twenty-year-old Texas-based Airman 1st Class Colton Read was supposed to have his gallbladder removed laparoscopically at Travis' hospital on July 9.

But something went horribly wrong about an hour after the newlywed went into surgery.

"A nurse ran out of the operating room yelling, 'We need blood, now!'" His wife, Jessica, recalled on a website set up to share his story.

Doctors told Jessica that surgeons nicked or punctured her husband's aortic artery during the process, causing a huge loss of blood. Surgeons repaired the breach enough to save his life, but the tear managed to disrupt the blood supply to her husband's legs.

A helicopter took Read to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and almost nine hours later, he went back into an operating room. But by that time, his legs had been without blood for too long. He left the operating room without half of his right leg.

Over the next few hours, Read underwent tests and more surgeries. Eventually, surgeons were left with no choice except to amputate Read's other leg too because of damage to the muscle and tissue. Read's family believes his legs could have been saved if surgeons had not waited so long.

Travis officials won't comment on specifics, only saying a "serious medical incident" occurred at the hospital. The case is under investigation by the base, a national hospital accrediting commission and the U.S. surgeon general.

Everyday is a battle for the young airman as he fights fevers, infection and depression. He still has not had the gallbladder removed.

"He is in a catatonic state now and does not respond at all -- no talking, no moving, just lies there while tears drip down his face." Jessica writes. "It is like shock, but the doctors are saying 'no.'"

The medical nightmare has now also become a legal one for Read's family.

The Air Force wants to medically discharge Read, who was fulfilling a lifelong dream as a member of the Air Force. Jessica is trying to stall the process because her husband has been heavily sedated and medicated but she wants him to be a part of the decision-making.

Federal law prohibits lawsuits for medical malpractice in a military setting but Read's family wants to take on the law and try to make that change.

Late Monday, Jessica told a Sacramento TV station that Air Force officials visited them and admitted the medical mistake and reassured the couple that Colton will remain a member of the Air Force.

For now, Read's wife and family are holding out hope for his recovery. His family has made the long journey from their homes in Texas, but the financial burden of an extended stay in Sacramento is taking a toll.

"There is just nothing we can do to help him except take turns sitting with him and praying," Jessica said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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