Former associate says she filed DEA complaint on embattled Kentucky surgeon

Published: Jan. 10, 2019 at 5:49 PM EST
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A Kentucky surgeon is now facing more than a dozen lawsuits claiming he was not fit to perform surgery on them, and a former medical associate said she filed a federal complaint against him.

There are 17 lawsuits filed against Dr. Michael Heilig where plaintiffs are wanting past and future medical expenses along with compensation for pain and suffering. WKYT Investigates learned Heilig's medical license was restricted in 2018 following an incident in the operating room in May. He failed a drug test on a day he was performing surgeries. In a letter Heilig wrote to the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, Heilig admitted to abusing Ambien, a prescription sedative, for the past two and a half years.

We have talked to several former patients who claim Heilig's surgeries have left them in pain following the procedures.

In a WKYT exclusive, we sat down with a former x-ray technician and medical associate who worked with Heilig during the time she was at Kentucky Orthopedic Associates. When she left the practice in January of 2017, she said she filed a complaint with the Drug Enforcement Agency over some of the activities she witnessed at the practice.

"I got online to the DEA website and reported what I saw," she said.

WKYT Investigates requested any complaints filed to the DEA. The DEA told us they would not confirm or deny the existence of such records.

The former associate told Combs Heilig was a knowledgeable surgeon "so there had to be another factor there that caused him to make that mistake." She said the news of him failing a drug test was an emotional hit, and that was the reason she wanted to come forward.

"We're part of the team that helps take care of these people, which is why I feel a need to be part of this because I was part of that team that Dr. Heilig belonged to, and these people that I'm seeing on TV now were people that I helped take care of."

Dr. Heilig was suspended from Clark Regional Medical Center May 10 after operating room nurses reported strange behavior during surgeries. In statements to the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board, one nurse said Heilig "almost fell like he lost his balance and was talking a little weird." Another described the doctor as "losing his balance and not acting like himself and walking backwards like stumbling with his eyes closed and mumbling." A drug test the same day showed four different drugs in his system -- from Oxycodone to Xanax, and he had no valid prescriptions for any of it.

"How did he obtain those medications without a prescription in his name?" the former associate asked. "And has the Kentucky Licensing Board just completely overlooked that fact?"

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure gave Heilig his license back during a November 2018 hearing after staying clean for 90 days.

Other defendants in the lawsuits include Kentucky Orthopedic Associates, Clark Regional Medical Center, Lifepoint of Kentucky and other places where he operated. The defendants are listed in only some of the 17 lawsuits.

"I just want to say to him, 'Yes, you worked hard to become a surgeon, but with that comes great responsibility, and you did not uphold your side of that, and it's wrong,'" the former associate said.

Heilig has previously refused to comment to WKYT Investigates on the accusations or if he plans to practice again in Kentucky. Heilig was employed at Kentucky Orthopedic Associates and performed surgeries at Clark Regional Medical Center. The hospital previously told WKYT Heilig no longer has privileges there and doesn't comment on matters related to medical staff. Kentucky Orthopedic Associates declined to comment on the lawsuits.

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