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Murtha's death sparks inquiry

| Friday, Feb. 12, 2010

A congressman in line to take over the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha's subcommittee chairmanship said he plans to look into how Bethesda Naval Medical Center handled the operation that preceded Murtha's death.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Washington, said the inquiry likely won't rise to the level of a congressional hearing, but he and other senior legislators in both parties want to know why Murtha died after undergoing a routine gallbladder removal. Murtha died Monday from complications arising from the surgery. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Philadelphia, said Murtha's large intestine was damaged during the procedure.

"This is normally a pretty routine operation. What I want to know is, what went wrong• Are there problems (at Bethesda)• Do we need to do anything to help?" said Dicks, who is next in line to assume Murtha's longtime chairmanship of the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee.

Dicks plans to speak with the commanding officer at Bethesda as well as Navy officials on Capitol Hill. Top Republicans on the committee, including ranking member Bill Young of Florida, support the inquiry, Dicks said.

A Bethesda spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

"This is not a witch hunt. We're simply trying to do our job over here. I have no preconceived conclusions, though there is no question about the fact that there was a mistake made," Dicks said.

Murtha's laparoscopic surgery, where a surgeon using a video camera removes the gallbladder through small incisions, is among the most common operations in the country. Murtha underwent the surgery Jan. 28 and went home that day. He was admitted to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington on Feb. 1.

Fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of people who undergo the surgery die, according to the American College of Surgeons.

"I feel we have a responsibility to everybody who goes there," Dicks said. "What Jack would want me to do, would want us to do, is make sure this doesn't happen again.

"He'd want to make sure the troops coming back, the retirees and their families are getting the best possible care."

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