Neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo has slammed 60 Minutes for claims that he charged hefty prices for futile operations that left patients severely injured and families with false hope.
In a one-on-one interview with A Current Affair’s Tracy Grimshaw, Dr Teo responded to a “comprehensive” story aired by the program last weekend, in which multiple families shared their upset about the large financial burdens placed on them and feeling that they had been given false hope by the acclaimed surgeon.
Dr Teo dubbed the report as “abhorrent and disgusting”, and while he admitted he had made mistakes in his career, he said the idea that he was simply in it for the money was false.
“For some outsiders not sitting in the room with you having a discussion with the patient, it‘s so wrong for them to judge you on what’s going on in the room,” he said.
“If someone is trying to portray me as some money-hungry bastard that was operating and hurting children based on money, that’s what I want to correct. It’s not that case.”
The surgeon, who is currently under investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission, told 2GB host Ben Fordham on Wednesday that he does have regrets about mistakes he’s made.
“But I deny the accusation that it means nothing to me,” Dr Teo said.
“I treat all my patients like a member of my own family.”
When asked if he was sorry about the mistakes he’s made, Dr Teo said he was and that “you would have to be a sociopath” not to be sorry.
“You’d have to be a sociopath not to be sorry because every mistake means some sort of bad outcome for the patient which means quality of life issues, sometimes even death, or paralysis, inability to speak,” he added.
“I mean, if that didn’t affect you, you’d be like Dr Death, you’d be some sort of a psychopath.”
During his 60 Minutes interview, Dr Teo responded to the case of one patient who lost their vision, explaining that he never gave 100 percent certainty that the procedure wouldn’t result in blindness.
“If I had guaranteed that there was no chance of blindness, that is me saying the wrong thing, that’s misinformation,” he said.
“I don’t do that, you can’t do that and not get sued, someone will sue you one day and after 11,000 cases, you don’t think if I have set out to a handful of patients I’d be sued by those patients?
“In that case, I thought the chance of blindness was almost zero, but I never give a guarantee. They are claiming I said that I guarantee you won’t be blind, that is absolute lie, I did not say that I would never say that you be foolish to say that.”
Dr Teo revealed that he has photos of his patients on his phone to remind him of the importance of his job, saying that he carried the devastation of failed operations with him every day.
“There is a French vascular surgeon who wrote a book on the philosophy of surgery, and I don’t think you can put in any better words when he said ‘every surgeon carries with himself a small cemetery’,” he said.
“My cemetery is not small, it’s a significant sized cemetery. (I have) pictures of my patients on my phone to remind me every day I’ve got to do it better.”
While some of his former patients have been critical of the neurosurgeon, others have leapt to his defence, including 24-year-old Monica Lopresti.
After she began to lose her memory in early 2021 but her blood tests returned normal results, it wasn’t until she received the results of an MRI in 2022 that it was discovered that she had a benign cystic tumour in the middle of her brain.
Seven neurosurgeons turned her away, but Dr Teo agreed to perform surgery on her.
Ms Lopresti said Dr Teo explained the risks, which included death, paralysis and being left in a vegetative state, and that she agreed to proceed with the knowledge of the risks.
She added that “it just isn’t true” that the surgeon gave people false hope.
“I wasn’t living a life. I was always calling in sick and I wasn’t having the quality of life that I wanted,” she told news.com.au.
Since August 2021, Dr Teo has been banned from performing operations in Australia but still receives daily requests for help, telling the podcast The Soda Room that he estimates that nine patients a week are left without lifesaving care as a result.
“So the sadness of the situation is that my entire practice was mostly taking out tumours that other people called inoperable, so that was 90 per cent of my practice,” he said.
“That’s 10 tumours a week. So that means, quite conceivably, that there are nine patients a week, who are missing out on either extension of life or cure from a condition that I know that I can help. Now that’s sad.”
Images: A Current Affair
This article first appeared on OverSixty.