More than three years after filing a whistleblower lawsuit against Florida Hospital, Dr. Ahmad Chaudhry was awarded $2.85 million by an Orlando jury that decided he was wrongfully fired by the hospital in retaliation for raising concerns about unsafe practices of the then-director of its heart and lung transplant institute.
“Our ultimate hope is that Florida Hospital and any other hospital watching learns that you have to put safety first,” said Chaudhry’s attorney, Stuart Ratzan. “And if you don’t do it, there will be consequences.”
Florida Hospital didn’t make anyone available for an interview but denied the allegations.
“Patient safety is our top concern. Many of the allegations in this case are without merit … and we stand by our arguments as presented to the court,” the hospital said in an e-mail statement. “The court has yet to rule on key motions made during the trial, which will determine if some or all of the verdict can stand. As we wait for the court’s remaining rulings, we are evaluating our next steps.”
Chaudhry and the man he accused of wrongdoing, Dr. Hartmuth Bittner, are no longer in Central Florida and neither practices heart and lung transplant surgery.
They are immigrants from opposite corners of the world who took different paths to becoming transplant surgeons and ended up on a collision course.
Chaudhry, 48, received his medical degree from King Edward Medical University in Pakistan in 1994. He later finished his residency at University of Connecticut School of Medicine and completed several fellowships, the last of which was at UCLA Medical Center. In December 2012, he was hired by Florida Hospital as a heart and lung transplant surgeon at the hospital’s year-old program.
A first in Central Florida, Florida Hospital started the transplant program with a $24 million investment. It hired Bittner, a board-certified thoracic surgeon who had a medical degree from University of Heidelberg Medical School in Heidelberg, Germany, and a residency and fellowship at Duke University Medical Center, to establish the program.
But it didn’t take long for Chaudhry to have misgivings about Bittner’s practices, according to the lawsuit.
In his lawsuit, Chaudhry alleges that Bittner, 62, intentionally ignored the surgical-clearance process for certain heart surgeries, caused an unacceptably high death rate that was more than double what it should be, and violated standard of care, putting patients’ lives in danger. He also alleges that he took his concerns to the administration several times but no meaningful action was taken to correct Bittner’s behavior.