Dr. What? From the mixed-up files of Muftah Salem Eljamel

Muftah Salem Eljamel

A surgeon in Scotland who mistook a tear duct for a brain tumor, operated on the wrong disc in another patient and eventually gave up his right to practice medicine in the UK has corrected a 2008 paper.

The reason: More confusion, it seems. Muftah Salem Eljamel says he mistook an image in the article as being from his hospital when it belonged to another surgeon at a hospital in Cardiff, some 460 miles distant. And oh, the image wasn’t what he thought it was to begin with.  The Courier reported on the correction.

According to the notice, in the Journal of Neurosurgery:

TO THE READERSHIP: I recently was made aware of an error in my paper (Eljamel MS: Ablative neurosurgery for mental disorders: is there still a role in the 21st century? A personal perspective. Neurosurg Focus 25(1):E4, 2008).

While preparing my paper I selected an MR image (Fig. 5) from a collection of postoperative images that I believed all belonged to my institution at the time, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in Dundee, Scotland, UK. I thought that the image showed a coronal T2-weighted MR image from a patient who had undergone bilateral anterior capsulotomy (BACA) there 12 months earlier. Recently, I discovered that the MR image was actually obtained 6 months after BACA in a patient treated by Brian A. Simpson, MD, FRCS, in Cardiff, UK.

Despite this error, the MRI from Dr. Simpson’s collection serves as a good example of a follow-up image after BACA, and with Dr. Simpson’s permission I have decided to keep it in the paper. I have corrected the figure legend to more accurately state the timing of postoperative imaging and to acknowledge Dr. Simpson. The figure and the new legend are shown here.

I thank Dr. Simpson for graciously sharing his figure.

Simpson, in an email, told us that he was satisfied with the outcome:

Given that the correction has been published, that Sam Eljamel has apologised and that there appears to be no evidence to refute his explanation, my feeling is that the matter is closed. As I published the image after his publication, without realising at the time that he had also published it, my main concern was that I might appear, erroneously, to be the plagiarist.

The paper has been cited ten times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. That includes a citation by the correction, and also by a 2015 paper that referred to Eljamel’s article as an example of revisionist history.

Eljamel has a long history of anatomical disorientation — with dire consequences for his patients.  In 2013, according to the Daily Mail, Eljamel was working at NHS Tayside when he botched an operation on a woman with a brain tumor, removing a tear gland instead of the cancerous mass. Ninewells Hospital in Dundee suspended him in 2014 after he performed surgery on the wrong spinal disc in another patient.

The case has echoes of Dr. Death, a podcast about a sociopathic neurosurgeon in Texas named Christopher Duntsch, who traded in his white coat for prison orange and is now serving a life sentence in prison for malpractice. 

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