A Fort Lauderdale anesthesiologist is facing a license suspension and thousands in fines for his role in a procedure that left a local father permanently vegetative.
The Florida Health Department says Dr. Thomas J. Rodenberg, 53, kept inadequate and inaccurate medical records and failed to properly respond when Dale Whyte went into cardiac arrest in a Pompano Beach operating room in 2008.
Friday in Orlando, the state Board of Medicine is expected to approve a disciplinary plan that includes a six-month suspension and a $40,000 fine.
But attorneys for the family say they will push for harsher terms against a doctor whose career also includes two dead patients and recent pill mill charges.
"We like to feel Dale is with us with the use of his eyes. He's trapped in a body that won't work," said Whyte's mother, Carol, in a dramatic video the board plans to review.
The video depicts his mother and sister washing him and changing his diapers, then reading to him as his eyes search around the northern Georgia property where they live.
Rodenberg, reached by phone, said he is the victim of faulty machines and unfair investigations. Each outcome made him an easier target for plaintiffs, medical boards and law enforcement, he said.
Family attorneys say Whyte, 36, likely has had no brain function at all since he underwent manipulation under anesthesia, a procedure which involves using anesthesia to accomplish chiropractic maneuvers that pain would normally prevent.
On Dec. 4, 2008, at a surgical center along Interstate 95 in Pompano Beach, doctors hooked Whyte up to a heart monitor and began manipulating him at his feet. Eleven minutes into the operation, for uncertain reasons, Whyte lost oxygen and his heart rate slowed, the Health Department reported in its findings.
Rodenberg refused to acknowledge anything was wrong as nurses streamed into the room, the Health Department said. The monitor's alarm sounded, but Rodenberg twice turned it off. Four doctors were there, but none took charge. Nurse Marianne Mueller began CPR as the CEO of Atlantic Surgical Center called 911, investigators found.
When paramedics arrived, Whyte had no pulse, the Department of Health reported. At Holy Cross Hospital, doctors helped to save his life but couldn't save his brain, which had been starved of oxygen.
Rodenberg disputes the allegations of his inaction. But he said he would not fight the disciplinary agreement because he will not be practicing while he fights criminal charges. Prosecutors say he and six other doctors illegally sold pain killers to undercover agents during a federal pill mill probe.
Rodenberg spoke from Fort Lauderdale, where he remains on house arrest awaiting trial.
"The cause of the original cardiac arrest was not from anesthesia or oxygen, and it's irrefutable," Rodenberg said. He said that when Whyte's heart stopped, his chances of a full recovery became remote, regardless of the emergency response.
He said he never believed Whyte was "fine." Rather, he was telling staff members "we're fine with the number of people that are in the room."
Responding to Department of Health findings that records from the operation were incomplete, Rodenberg said that in rushing Whyte to the hospital he never had time to fill out forms. When he returned to the surgical center later, employees wouldn't let him access the information.
It wasn't Rodenberg's first brush with tragedy.
In 2005, a 53-year-old woman turned blue in an MRI machine and died while under Rodenberg's anesthesia treatment at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, according to Health Department records. He was fined and ordered to perform community service.
Then in June 2008, a 43-year-old woman died while undergoing anesthesia and a pain treatment by Rosenberg, records show. The findings and punishments of this case and Whyte's are part of the complaint under consideration Friday.
In each case, the patients' vital signs suddenly dropped off.
In the aftermath of the failed Whyte operation, Atlantic Surgical shut down, lawyers filed malpractice lawsuits and the nurses tried to put the trauma behind them, according to investigation reports and court filings. Monica Speer, a four-year Atlantic Surgical nurse, moved to Kentucky.
Mueller, who gave Whyte CPR, left nursing.
"I quit for two years because I couldn't sleep over that case," she said.
Medical professionals have mulled over manipulation under anesthesia for years. Both the American Chiropractic Association and the American Society of Anesthesiologists have acknowledged it as a legitimate procedure.
"If it's in the right hands with properly selected patients, then it's a good procedure," said Dr. Lawrence Wyatt, an ACA chiropractor in Texas.