Robert P. Schuster is representing a woman in a medical malpractice case for negligent removal of the woman’s parathyroid glands. In what should have been a routine surgery to remove the woman’s thyroid glands, the doctor failed to identify and preserve the parathyroid glands in spite of the fact that surgeons are trained as to the importance of identifying and saving the parathyroids because they are so essential to maintenance of appropriate calcium levels in the body.
Parathyroids glands are four rice-sized glands located behind the thyroid, which produce a hormone called PTH (Parathyroid Hormone), the sole function of which is to regulate the calcium levels in the body: how much calcium is in the blood and how much calcium is in the bones. Calcium—which is a critically important element in the human body—provides a means for electrical impulses to travel along nerves, provides electrical energy for the muscular systems, and is inherent to maintaining a strong skeletal structure. Without properly regulated calcium, the nervous system does not function properly, giving rise to depression, chronic fatigue, insomnia, gastric acid reflux, chronic pain, kidney stones, confusion, loss of memory, and heart arrhythmias. Because calcium also controls the electrical system of the musculature system, low levels often cause muscle spasms, seizures, cramps, severe tetany, and a constant sensation of weakness. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are both typical consequences from the loss of calcium to the skeletal structure.
The removal of the parathyroid glands causes significant medical problems. Without the proper amount of PTH, calcium levels fluctuate, often falling below acceptable levels which in turn causes the nervous system to short-circuit and the muscular system to seize. This condition is called hypoparathyroidism. Hypoparathyroidism—as opposed to hyperparathyroidism, which is caused by an overabundance of calcium in the blood—is a very rare condition, almost always caused by damage to or removal of the parathyroid glands during parathyroid or thyroid surgery.
While calcium and vitamin K supplements are utilized in an attempt to maintain and regulate calcium levels, there is no effective treatment for hypoparathyroidism and there is no cure for the loss of the parathyroid glands. Patients face a lifelong struggle dealing with the profound, irreversible damage to—and dysfunction of—three of their body’s most essential systems—the nervous system, the muscular system, and the skeletal system.