WKYT Investigates | Surgeon tests positive for drugs after aborted surgeries

Published: Oct. 25, 2018 at 5:30 PM EDT
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After a nurse questioned his behavior in the operating room leading to a drug test, a central Kentucky surgeon now wants restrictions on his medical license lifted saying he's been clean for 90 days.

On August 3, the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure put the restrictions on Dr. Michael Heilig's license following an investigation prompted by a May 10 incident in a Clark County operating room.

In an order obtained by WKYT Investigates, the nurse in the operating room at Clark Regional Medical Center described that Dr. Heilig "almost fell like he lost his balance" and "was talking a little weird" on the first surgery of the day.

By the second surgery, the operating room nurse said Dr. Heilig was "losing his balance" and "not acting like himself." By the third surgery, the nurse went on to say he was "walking backwards like stumbling with his eyes closed and mumbling" and he "went to sit on a stool and almost missed the stool." At that point, the report says the medical team aborted the day's surgery.

A drug screen, performed on the same day Dr. Heilig's surgeries were aborted, found the presence of alpha-hydroxy-alprazolam, noroxycodone, oxycodone and oxymorphone in his system.

The only prescription the doctor was able to show was for oxycodone back in 2009.

The May incident happened five months after Doug White had his hip replaced by Dr. Heilig. After his surgery, his complications were so severe he ended up going to a new doctor.

White said the new doctor had to do a new hip replacement.

"The cup, which is the socket up in your pelvis, was almost 180 degrees off. It was turned almost 180 degrees wrong," White told WKYT's Miranda Combs.

White said several other irregularities forced him to get a new hip just nine months after his other new one was put in by Dr. Heilig.

"Let's make it clear, there's no proof," WKYT confirmed with White.

"There's no proof. I can't prove that he was under the influence when he done (sic) mine, " White said. "I wish I could, and I understand that and I don't want to say anything that I do not know for a fact. I know for a fact that he did my hip surgery. I know for a fact it was wrong. I know for a fact that I had to have it re-done, and I know for a fact of what on that paper right there."

In the order from the state board, Dr. Heilig agreed not to practice medicine until he finishes the program several objectives. One stipulation was to be clean for 90 days immediately before submitting his petition for reinstatement of his license or to resume the practice of medicine.

"I've been sentenced to nine months of pain. He got sentenced to 90 days. To me, it's wrong," White told WKYT. "A doctor makes mistakes on you. They are human. But to find out right there, I was enraged."

Dr. Heilig's attorney brought WKYT a letter from the Kentucky Physician's Health Foundation asking the medical licensure board to modify the order and allow Dr. Heilig to return to the practice of clinical medicine.

In the letter, the foundation states Heilig has been clean for three months.

Dr. Heilig was employed at Kentucky Orthopedic Associates during the incident. They had no comment on him no longer working at the practice.

While the surgery took place in the operating room at Clark Regional Medical Center, he was not employed there. Instead, it's common practice for independent physicians to have privileges to use hospital facilities.

"Clark Regional Medical Center is committed to providing excellent quality of care to all of its patients in an environment that promotes patient safety," said Sarah Alexander, director of marketing for the hospital. "As a practice, the hospital does not discuss any matters involving current or former members of our medical staff."