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US doctor on trial in Australian patient deaths

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Associated Press Writer

An American doctor charged in the deaths of three patients wrongly removed a man's bowel, dooming him to a life of pain and dependence on a colostomy bag, an Australian prosecutor said Tuesday.

Jayant Patel, 59, is being tried on three manslaughter charges and one count of grievous bodily harm related to four patients he treated while working as director of surgery between 2003 and 2005 at a state-run hospital in Bundaberg, a sugar industry town 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of Brisbane in Queensland state.

Patel is accused of performing unnecessary, sloppy or antiquated operations.

Prosecutor Ross Martin told jurors in Brisbane Supreme Court on Tuesday that Patel insisted on removing the bowel of Ian Rodney Vowles, even though growths discovered on the man's intestine were found to be non-cancerous. The doctor told Vowles he couldn't be sure there was no cancer elsewhere in the region, and therefore needed to remove the bowel, Martin said.

When the patient questioned the procedure, Martin said Patel tried to reassure Vowles by saying, "You will be running around like a horse after this operation - you'll have no trouble at all."

The entire procedure was unnecessary, Martin said.

"Bowel cancer is a bad thing," Martin said, "but one does not undertake the removal of a bowel as a precaution."

The Indian-born Patel has not spoken publicly about the charges. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.

The trial is expected to last up to six weeks.

Patel is charged with the manslaughter of patients Mervyn John Morris, James Edward Phillips and Gerry Kemps, and the grievous bodily harm of Vowles.

Prosecutors hit a minor snag Tuesday when one of their first witnesses was asked not to refer to certain regulations in place when Patel was at the hospital.

Desley Hoolihan, director of safety and risk management at Bundaberg Base Hospital, told the court she was an occupational therapist during Patel's employment as director of surgery between 2003 and 2005.

When prosecutor David Meredith asked Hoolihan to comment on regulations that limited certain surgeries, Justice John Byrne halted the proceedings and asked jurors to leave. Hoolihan was then banned from commenting on the issue.

Patel has faced complaints about his competency since the early 1980s, when he practiced in the U.S. In 1984, he was fined by New York health officials and placed on probation for three years for failing to examine patients before surgery.

He later worked at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Kaiser banned him from liver and pancreatic surgeries in 1998 after reviewing 79 complaints about Patel. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners later cited him for "gross or repeated acts of negligence."

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