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Woodwinds officials defend surgeon, staff regarding infection incident

A Cottage Grove mother of five undergoes a hysterectomy at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury. Post-operative complications ensue.

Concerned over a number of apparent side-effects from the surgery and not satisfied with the care she is getting, the 32-year-old woman's husband has her transferred to the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

In the following weeks, the woman has several surgeries to deal with severe damage to her stomach and kidneys. More surgeries are scheduled.

Those aren't disputed facts.

Officials at Woodwinds and HealthEast, however, take issue with how those details were portrayed on a television news report that aired Feb. 3 on WCCO-TV's 10 p.m. news program and posted online at

In the WCCO report, Rebecca Eckes said from a hospital bed at the University Medical Center that complications from the initial surgery, a hysterectomy performed Jan. 13 at Woodwinds, nearly killed her.

The report stated University Medical Center doctors told her she had contracted a rare "flesh-eating disease" at Woodwinds.

The WCCO report also stated Eckes and her family primarily blame the doctor who performed the original surgery for her life-threatening complications. They said he was negligent, but placed responsibility on Woodwinds staff, too.

In an interview with the Woodbury Bulletin Wednesday, Woodwinds officials said their thoughts and prayers go out to Eckes and her family -- but they took exception to any notion that Woodwinds and the surgeon were negligent in their care of Eckes. They also expressed concern the WCCO segment will cause an undue sense of alarm for patients at Woodwinds.

"This was an extremely rare complication of the surgery," said Woodwinds medical director Dr. Lynn Lillie. "This is not a contagious type of infection, and I think that is an important community message for people to know."

Although Woodwinds officials said post-operative infections are rare, they can occur -- and they contend they can be transmitted by many means during or after surgery.

"We are confident that Woodwinds follows all infection control guidelines and patient care is safe and of the highest quality at Woodwinds," said Dr. Steve Kolar, the chief medical officer for HealthEast Care Systems, to which Woodwinds belongs.

Kolar said the hospital's track record for safety and infection control rates is better than national and state measurements. Those statistics are public information, he said.

WCCO reporters spoke with Cindy Bultena, the manager in charge of patient care at Woodwinds, and other officials there for the TV story.

But Lillie said during the interviews Woodwinds officials were never asked about their care of the patient, the outcomes of the patient or on the hospital's overall track record.

Kolar said Woodwinds patient care management staff reviews every incident where infection is involved during or after an operation.

"With any incident like this the medical staff has a very careful process to review exactly what went on in the case," Kolar said. "And we do that in any and all cases like that. So this case will go through a review."

For Woodwinds Health Campus care statistics, including infection rates, visit

To view data on medical errors made by hospitals in the state over the past five years, visit the Minnesota Hospital Association's Patient Safety annual report at

Due to health care privacy laws, Woodwinds officials could not discuss the incident in more detail, but defended the unidentified surgeon who performed the hysterectomy on Eckes.

Lillie said the surgeon who performed the hysterectomy on Eckes is an independent practitioner and active member of the hospital's medical staff. He has been performing surgeries at Woodwinds since the facility opened.

"I have the utmost confidence in this surgeon and have worked and collaborated with him on many cases and would not hesitate to do so in the future," Lillie said.

Lillie added she is concerned the WCCO story's depiction of what went on during and after Eckes' surgery at Woodwinds did not put the incident into the proper perspective.

"I have a concern for patients that are here at Woodwinds now, for patients who were here a week ago and for those who are going to be here tomorrow," Lillie said. "And one of my concerns is that the reporting that is coming out (of the WCCO story) creates an undue sense of alarm for these patients.

"(The patient) has complete empathy from everybody here throughout our care system. This person has been going through a very difficult complication. This doesn't imply that others have to worry about that same complication," Lillie said.

Community support for the Eckes

One of Rebecca Eckes' daughters, Kymberly Larson, is Little Miss Cottage Grove princess this year, and fellow members of the royalty organization are stepping in to help the family.

Lori Olsen, a member of the Cottage Grove Royalty Scholarship Committee Program, said the group is building a schedule of volunteers to provide meals for the family twice per week. They're also collecting gas cards for the family to help offset the cost of driving to the University of Minnesota daily and other gift cards.

Olsen said she's in contact with the family to find out if they have other needs.

For more information about the Cottage Grove Royalty's efforts to help the family, e-mail

A benefit fund has also been set up in Eckes' name at US Bank.