Cat owner claims veterinarian hospital overcharged for pet's kidney transplant

By Jim Boyle | May 12, 2014

A New York man claims a Philadelphia veterinarian hospital exploited the affection for his cat and used deceptive business practices to overcharge him for his pet's kidney transplant.

Max Wild, of Warwick, N.Y., has filed a federal lawsuit at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, seeking at least a $150,000 judgment as reimbursement for what he says should have been a $12,500 procedure.

In January 2011, Wild brought his cat, Boots, to the hospital for a kidney transplant. According to the complaint, after shopping for a doctor on the Internet, he came across an advertisement for the Matthew Ryan Hospital that said the procedure, barring any major complications, cost $12,500 and included "a complete work-up, the cost of surgery, general anesthesia and post-operative care of both recipient and donor cats."

Before performing an evaluation that determined Boots' eligibility for a transplant, Wild made a down payment of $2,500 and did not receive any notice from the doctors that the transplant would exceed the advertised price, the complaint says. Wild was told by the surgeon that the cat would receive a drug, cyclosporine, that would help prevent rejection of the kidney.

On Feb. 7, doctors performed the transplant, but a few days later the organ failed. Wild claims the reason for the failure is that Boots had too much cyclosporine in his system. The doctors knew they level was too high, Wild says, and that the operation could have been safely postponed.

Approximately 10 days later, the doctors told Wild that a second transplant could be performed, but further testing would be necessary. Wild was told that the Matthew J. Ryan Hospital could not perform dialysis on the cat until the time of surgery and that he should take Boots to the Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New York City.

Wild complied with the order, leaving Boots at AMC for four weeks, where the cat received three dialysis treatments a week for a total cost of approximately $33,000. The need for the additional testing and long wait was unfounded, says Wild, because the doctors knew that reason for the first failure was the cyclosporine levels and not Boots' medical condition.

On March 22, 2011, a second transplant was performed and ultimately successful, allowing Boots to live a full life until his death in August 2012, when he was euthanized due to contracting an advanced cancer that Wild claims was also a result of the high cyclosporine dose. Wild also adopted the two donor cats, according to the court documents.

When Wild arrived at the hospital in April 2011, a billing department representative informed him that he owed an additional $20,000, the complaint says. Living on his social security and IRA payments, Wild told the representative that he was mortgaging his house to pay the expenses. However, Wild says, he could not discharge his pet until he signed a credit application.

Upon receiving a detailed invoice of the procedure, Wild says there were several discrepancies. When he notified the hospital, staff members admitted some clerical errors, but no agreement could be reached over the final cost. The last estimate stood at $43,000, well-above the $12,500 advertised price for one transplant, as well as $25,000 for two.

Wild claims that the hospital secretly changed the online advertisement to show a modified cost estimate ranging between $12,000 and $16,000. The complaint says that the hospital's negligent failure caused undue trauma of two surgeries, several months of hospitalization and cruel and inhumane treatment, and forced Wild to make payments that created a financial hardship.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-02646-JS.

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