August 18, 2005
The life and times of Eric Scheffey

I've blogged about Dr. Eric Scheffey before, when he finally got his license to practice medicine revoked after a 20-year career of botched surgery and almost 100 lawsuits. This month's Texas Monthly has a feature article on Scheffey, available for the usual limited time only here, which gives a thorough look at his horrifying career. There were a number of factors which enabled Scheffey to do all the bad things he did - greed was the main one (not just his), along with some do-nothing bureaucracies that failed repeatedly to take the action needed to put him out of business - but some of it was sadly much more mundane.

Mary Tywater believed she was going into the hospital for a routine operation. On the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend in 1985, Scheffey operated on the 43-year-old Daisetta housewife to remove several disks in her back and fuse several vertebrae. He was in the midst of that surgery when he lost control of her bleeding. Some four hours into the operation, Tywater was dead. There was blood everywhere in the operating room. The anesthesiologist’s report is nearly illegible because it is smeared with Tywater’s blood. Scheffey was 35 at the time, and this was the first fatality to take place in his operating room.


Tywater’s death was thus a logical outcome of Scheffey’s incompetence. But it was also related to another of the doctor’s personal quirks. On the day after Memorial Day, a security guard at Montgomery Ward found Scheffey in green surgical scrubs, with shoe covers, a cap, and a lab coat crammed with $100 bills and reported that he was “pacing real fast, swearing and cussing, pulling things off the shelves.” Trailed by the security guard, Scheffey then went to the cash register and put eight toy dolls, four $100 bills, and his car keys on the counter and walked out of the store. Scheffey, as it turned out, was out of his mind on cocaine. Police later found thirty grams of the drug—about $3,000 worth—in his Jaguar. He was arrested, pled guilty to criminal possession of cocaine, and received a ten-year probation and a $2,000 fine. The state medical board restricted his license and put him on its own ten-year probation, which included drug tests, counseling, and the requirement that he be monitored by other doctors. Shortly after the incident, Scheffey checked himself into a California drug rehabilitation center.

The story, in all of its lurid detail, made the newspapers in Baytown and Houston. Though reporters never drew a direct connection between Scheffey’s arrest and the death of Tywater four days earlier, the two events were connected. In a later deposition, a doctor who had worked with Scheffey testified that the staff at the hospital where Tywater had died believed that Scheffey was taking drugs and that nurses had struggled to wake a drugged Scheffey in the doctors’ lounge just before he operated on her. Scheffey admitted in a medical board interview in 1986 that he had been using cocaine for eighteen months prior to his arrest.

When I read that, my first reaction was "Did it ever occur to those nurses (or anyone else in the operating room) that maybe it would have been better to let him sleep it off and reschedule the surgery for a time when he was sober?" As the article makes clear, the main enablers of Eric Scheffey were the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission, and in the end the hospitals who depended on his heavy surgery schedule for their bottom line. But others played a role, too.

Also noted is a lawsuit that Scheffey filed against the Houston Press over an article they wrote in 1992 about him; the suit was settled out of court. Not too surprisingly, I can't find that article in their archives, but I did find this one from 1998, which tells the tale of another Scheffey victim and her avenging husband. Read them both and hope that this time he really has been put out of business.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 18, 2005 to Legal matters | TrackBack

The actions of the TBME, TWCC and the hospitals in this case are criminal.

Posted by: ttyler5 on August 18, 2005 2:02 PM

did you hear-in the Houston Chronicle today (august 31, 2005) Eric Scheffey was arrested for allegedly praciticing w/ out a liscense.

Posted by: tasia on August 31, 2005 1:01 PM