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'They're trying to crucify me,' details emerge in Dallas anesthesiologist Raynaldo Ortiz Jr. investigation

CBS Dallas 9/15/2022 Annie Gimbel

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - More details are coming to light about Dallas anesthesiologist Raynaldo Rivera Ortiz Jr., 59. 

He's accused of injected nerve blocking agents and other drugs into patient IV bags at Baylor Scott & White Surgicare Center.

In a statement Wednesday, the health care system — which paused operations at the North Dallas facility on Aug. 24 — said, "There is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of those we serve."

Ortiz was arrested in Plano on Wednesday for federal criminal charges, according to The U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Texas. He was charged via criminal complaint with tampering with a consumer product causing death and intentional drug adulteration. Ortiz will make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Renee Toliver in Dallas on Friday at 10 a.m. 

"Our complaint alleges this defendant surreptitiously injected heart-stopping drugs into patient IV bags, decimating the Hippocratic oath," said U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham. "A single incident of seemingly intentional patient harm would be disconcerting; multiple incidents are truly disturbing. At this point, however, we believe that the problem is limited to one individual, who is currently behind bars. The Department of Justice and our indefatigable partners at the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations and the Dallas Police Department will work tirelessly to hold him accountable. In the meantime, it is safe to undergo anesthesia in Dallas."

According the criminal complaint, on June 21, Melanie Kaspar, 55-year-old coworker of Ortiz, experienced a medical emergency and died immediately after treating herself for dehydration using an IV bag of saline taken from the surgical center. An autopsy report revealed that she died from a lethal dose of bupivacaine, a nerve blocking agent that is rarely abused but is often used during the administration of anesthesia. 

Two months later, on Aug. 24, an 18-year-old male patient, identified in court documents as J.A., experienced a cardiac emergency during a routine sinus surgery. The teen was intubated and transferred to a local ICU. Chemical analysis of the fluid from a saline bag used during his surgery revealed the presence of bupivacaine, epinephrine (a stimulant), and lidocaine, drugs that could have caused the patient's sudden symptoms. 

According to the complaint, surgical center personnel concluded that the incidents involving Kaspar and the teenage victim suggested a pattern of intentional adulteration of IV bags used at the surgical center. They identified 10 additional unexpected cardiac emergencies that happened during otherwise unremarkable surgeries between May and August 2022, which the complaint alleges is an exceptionally high rate of complications over such a short period of time.

In each of those cases – which investigators said they believe happened on or around May 26 and 27; June 27; July 7, 15 and 18; and Aug. 1, 4, 9 and 19 – medical personnel were able to stabilize the patient only through use of emergency measures. Most of the incidents occurred during longer surgeries that used more than one IV bag, including one or more bags retrieved mid-surgery from a stainless steel bag warmer.

The complaint alleges that none of the cardiac incidents happened during Ortiz's surgeries, and that they began just two days after Oritz was notified of a disciplinary inquiry stemming from an incident during which he allegedly "deviated from the standard of care" during an anesthesia procedure when a patient experienced a medical emergency. The complaint alleges that all of the incidents occurred around the time Ortiz performed services at the facility, and no incidents occurred while Ortiz was on vacation.

The complaint further alleges that Ortiz, who had a history of disciplinary actions against him, expressed concern to other physicians over the disciplinary action at the facility and complained the center was trying to "crucify" him. A nurse who worked on one of Ortiz's surgeries allegedly told law enforcement that Ortiz refused to use an IV bag she retrieved from the warmer, physically waving the bag off. 

Surveillance video from the center's operating room hallway allegedly showed Ortiz placing IV bags into the stainless-steel bag warmer shortly before other doctors' patients experienced cardiac emergencies.  

The complaint alleges that in one instance captured in the surveillance video, agents observed Ortiz walk quickly from an operating room to the bag warmer, place a single IV bag inside, visually scan the empty hallway, and quickly walk away. Just over an hour later, according to the complaint, a 56-year-old woman suffered a cardiac emergency during a scheduled cosmetic surgery after a bag from the warmer was used during her procedure. 

The complaint alleges that in another instance, agents observed Ortiz exit his operating room carrying an IV bag concealed in what appeared to be a paper folder, swap the bag with another bag from the warmer, and walk away. Roughly half an hour later, a 54-year-old woman suffered a cardiac emergency during a scheduled cosmetic surgery after a bag from the warmer was used during her procedure.  

"Patients expect that their doctors will use only safe and effective medical products during their surgeries. When illicit tampering occurs, serious harm and even death can result," said Special Agent in Charge Charles L. Grinstead, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations. "Working with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to monitor, investigate and bring to justice those who would risk patients' health and safety."

If convicted, Ortiz faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He has denied any wrong doing to CBS 11. 

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