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Doctor in whistleblower case was ‘very absent’ after surgery before loved one’s death, family says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Family members of patients who underwent heart surgeries at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center are now speaking out, a day after a shocking whistleblower settlement case.

Sarah Coupland remembers the day in 2017 when her mother, Rebecca Arcangeli, had to be flown to the Texas Medical Center. The 46-year-old underwent emergency valve and aortic repair.

“Then surgeon was Dr. Joseph Coselli,” Coupland said. “Honestly, I don’t remember very much because I feel like he was very absent. I feel like he would just come in and say, ‘Someone else will talk to you. I’m the one who did the surgery, but so and so will handle it.'”

Coupland and the rest of the family were devastated when, just a few weeks after surgery, Arcangeli had to go back to the hospital and soon died.

“They told her it was a kink in the valve that caused a blockage, and she had 100% blockage that was caused by the valve repair replacement that they did,” Coupland said.

Coupland told ABC13 she had immediate concerns about the medical care her mother received at the time, though ABC13 cannot independently verify her mother’s medical history.

Coupland said she did a lot of research and wanted to sue, but no lawyer would take her case at the time.

Therefore, she was shocked when this week, the federal government revealed that Dr. Coselli was one of three doctors, the other two being Dr. Joseph Lamelas and Dr. David Ott, working at Baylor St. Lukes between 2013 and 2020, who allegedly had unqualified residents perform some operations unsupervised.

RELATED: $15M settlement reached after doctors allegedly left heart surgeries to perform other operations

The suit also alleged the doctors tried to drive up the volume of operations but sometimes had multiple surgeries at once.

“It’s a whistleblower case,” local civil attorney Geoff Berg explained, who is not involved in any of the litigation.

Berg explained that most of the $15 million settlement went to the government and a portion to the whistleblower. This was not a medical malpractice case.

In fact, in Texas, medical malpractice suits are very limited by years of tort reform in the state legislature. Families treated by doctors during the time frame identified by the lawsuit have almost no options.

“Texas just made a decision that we don’t want this to be a place where you can sue doctors,” Berg explained. “So doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies are given every benefit of the doubt. Every advantage in litigation.”

However, Berg said every case is different, and even though the hurdles are high, concerned families should speak to a lawyer if they want to be certain of what can and cannot be done.

Two of the three doctors still live in Houston. ABC13 went looking for Dr. Coselli at his listed address in River Oaks.

Several cars parked outside of his listed mansion, but nobody answered the door.

Dr. Ott’s listed address is just a few blocks away, and it is also in River Oaks. Nobody answered at his door either.

Coupland has waited seven years for someone to answer questions about her mom’s care. She would also like to know whether her mom’s case may be among the many the government looked through in this court settlement.

“She was the fun mom, the fun grandma. And it’s just so crazy it can all be taken away like that,” Coupland said.