SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In June, KELOLAND News first broke the story of Sioux Falls Neurosurgeon Dr. Wilson Asfora being accused of performing unnecessary surgeries.
The two doctors who filed the civil lawsuit claim they brought their concerns to top leadership at Sanford Health, but that Sanford allowed it in order to to make millions of dollars in kickbacks from Medicaid, Medicare and other health programs.
After the 2016 lawsuit was unsealed in federal court this summer, Sanford Health stopped using two medical devices developed by Dr. Asfora. But the Health System said they stood by Dr. Asfora in July.
KELOLAND Investigates also talked to a former Dr. Asfora brain surgery patient, who has filed a separate civil suit, claiming her surgery was unnecessary and left her disabled.
Now, we bring you another side of this story. A former Dr. Asfora patient and nurse say he is being falsely accused of wrongdoing.
“I was to the point where I couldn’t take the pain anymore,” Anderson said.
It was pain Jayne Anderson had endured since she was a teenager.
“I got on a horse and it went crazy and threw me, threw me off the horse and ever since that point I’ve been struggling with lower back problems. I tried chiropractor, physical therapy, and a lot of pain shots I wanted to go a conservative route,” Anderson said.
But her sister Tracy Johnson encouraged her to make an appointment with her boss. Johnson was a nurse for Dr. Wilson Asfora for nearly two decades.
“The things that he has invented, he’s used because of all the surgeries he’s done. He’s just made improvements on other things that are out there,” Johnson said.
Anderson had a degenerative disc and Dr. Asfora advised her to undergo a procedure in which he would use his own device, a titanium bullet cage to fix it.
“They take out the disc, and they clean that all out– which was pushing on a nerve and causing pain down my leg. And they put in a piece of titanium,” Anderson said.
Anderson says her pain disappeared almost immediately following the surgery. “If I sit on a chair, I know it’s there. It’s got a little peg and little screws. I can feel it, but it’s not uncomfortable. I know it’s there, but I know it was life changing,” Anderson said.
Kennecke: Do you believe that Dr. Asfora was unnecessarily putting in these cages or screws in patients.
Johnson: You know I don’t believe as a person he would do something like that, no.
Johnson didn’t work directly with Dr. Asfora on back surgeries. She oversaw more than 200 of Dr. Asfora’s patients with implanted pain pumps.
Kennecke: Were you ever encouraged to install pain pumps, to make money– to make more money?
Johnson: Absolutely not.
Johnson is now defending the surgeon whom she believes has been wronged.
Kennecke: So how do you explain this lawsuit?
Johnson: I can’t. I can’t. And I’ve heard so much negativity, I just want people to know the man I know. He’s one of my best friends and I would do anything for him. I referred my sister to him, I referred my husband to him.
We asked Johnson about some of the accusations leveled in the federal lawsuit against Dr. Asfora.
Kennecke: Were you aware of any patient being paralyzed after getting this surgery?
Johnson: I do not.
Kennecke: And were you aware of him putting this cage into people who had hip problems when maybe that was not the right thing for that patient?
Johnson: I am not aware of that, no. And I doubt he would… I know he wouldn’t do that.
Anderson says it’s unfortunate that other patients won’t benefit from Dr. Asfora’s device.
“I feel bad about that. I know how it helped me. Now if someone needs it, they won’t have that opportunity,” Anderson said.
The lawsuit alleges because Dr. Asfora was the sole owner of Medical Designs, the company that made his bullet cages, he had financial incentive to perform unnecessary surgeries using the device.
KELOLAND Investigates asked Johnson if she thought this was a conflict of interest and she said she did not. We reached out to Dr. Asfora for an interview and are waiting to hear back from him.