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16-Year-Old Boy Dies Months After Charitable Surgery

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- A Russian teen who traveled halfway around the world so American doctors could remove a brain stem tumor, only to have the risky surgery leave him comatose, died Wednesday morning, his family said.

David Kurbanov, 16, came to St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City last year with his father after the hospital agreed to perform charitable surgery on the boy.

"There were a number of events, terrible things that did go wrong, and there were opportunities to prevent them," said Aleksei Tarasov, a friend of Sabit Kurbanov, the boy's father. Sabit does not speak English.

Kelly Bishop, the family's attorney, said he has requested an autopsy be done on David and could not say whether his client would bring a lawsuit against the hospital.

"Right now, Mr. Kurbanov is grieving over the loss of his son and this terrible tragedy," Bishop said. "When the dust settles, he may look at options with regard to his rights."

For months, Sabit Kurbanov said the one condition on the free operation was that it be filmed for a story by a television station.

But St. Anthony officials had said the filming was not a requirement for the operation and that it never planned a commercial based on David, and that the father and son voluntarily signed consent forms for the filming.

In a statement released Wednesday by St. Anthony, the hospital said it "took extraordinary life saving measures to keep David's heart beating consistent with his father's wishes, but eventually those measures were unsuccessful and David's heart stopped beating.

"The hospital extends its sympathy and prayers to the family during this tragic time."

Attorneys for St. Anthony were due in court next month to have David declared brain dead and bar efforts to resuscitate him should his heart stop.

"Over the past three days David's condition deteriorated," the hospital said in the statement. "His heart stopped beating numerous times and the staff intervened to take extraordinary measures to restart it, according to the father's wishes. Early this morning attempts were no longer successful."

Last year, doctors in Moscow discovered a tumor that had wrapped around David's brain stem, crowding the portion that controls involuntary body functions such as balance, swallowing and appetite.

Surgeons in Moscow had scheduled an operation for March 2006, but warned the Kurbanovs there was a 30 percent chance David could have complications, such as partial paralysis.

Then, an American missionary living in Russia familiar with David's story sent copies of his MRIs to surgeon Paul Francel, who eventually agreed to do the $100,000 operation for free at St. Anthony.

While Russian doctors warned of potential complications, the missionary billed Francel as a "super doctor who had performed more than 6,000 surgeries" and treated Middle Eastern elites and the powerful, Kurbanov said.

But removing David's type of tumor comes with a high probability of complications. It is not uncommon for patients with brain stem tumors to require feeding tubes or experience double vision while in recovery.

"I did everything that could possibly be done, and so did the team there," Francel said Wednesday. "In neurosurgery, if you have a tumor in your brain stem, it's almost a death sentence.

"If it was never operated on, the tumor would kill him; it was killing him," he said.

Francel and his team discovered the golf ball-sized tumor was pilocytic astrocytoma, usually found in children and treated with surgery depending on its location in the brain.

In the weeks following the surgery, Francel said David was able to breathe on his own for short periods and follow rudimentary commands but eventually succumbed to infections he had been battling since before the operation and became brain dead.

Francel said the father was frustrated with his son's condition and removed him from the case.

Related Story:

6/12/2007 Hospital Wants Boy Declared Brain Dead
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