Two doctors at Tokyo Women’s Medical University Hospital were arrested Friday for alleged negligence and destruction of evidence in connection with a March 2001 heart operation that resulted in the death of a 12-year-old girl.

Kazuki Sato, 38, who was in charge March 2, 2001, of a heart-lung machine that stopped functioning because of improper use during the operation on Akika Hirayanagi, is suspected of negligence, the Metropolitan Police Department said. Kazuhiro Seo, 46, who led the team of 14 doctors and nurses who took part in the surgery is suspected of destroying evidence.

It is the first time doctors suspected of malpractice have been arrested, according to the National Police Agency.

The MPD also plans to soon turn over to prosecutors its case against a clinical engineer and a nurse who allegedly manipulated records of surgical data to cover up the malpractice, investigative sources said.

Akika Hirayanagi, of Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, was diagnosed with an interatrial septal defect, a hole in the tissue separating two of the heart’s chambers, shortly after she was born. She was hospitalized in late February last year.

She fell into a coma during the surgery and died three days later, due to brain damage caused when the heart-lung machine she was attached to stopped functioning.

Her father, Toshiaki Hirayanagi, a dentist, filed a criminal complaint with the MPD in January against six people, including some of the doctors who performed the surgery, alleging negligence.

According to the parents, doctors at the hospital initially did not tell them that the machine had stopped operating and instead claimed their daughter had died of heart failure.

The parents, alerted by a letter from an apparent whistle-blower, asked the hospital last year to look into the real cause of her death.

A subsequent probe conducted by the hospital determined that a pump that extracts blood had a revolution speed more than twice the normal level, resulting in abnormally high pressure in the machine.

As a consequence, the machine shut down, causing the girl to suffer brain damage as blood accumulated in her brain. The hospital admitted its mistakes and apologized to the parents.

Sato is suspected of negligence for operating the heart-lung machine in a careless manner and failing to take steps to prevent the situation that eventually caused the brain damage, police said.

Seo allegedly instructed the clinical engineer and the nurse to alter the girl’s surgical records.

During earlier informal questioning by police, both Sato and Seo denied any wrongdoing. Sato reportedly refused to talk to investigators about what happened during the surgery, while Seo claimed other doctors were the ones who manipulated the medical records, according to police sources.

Following Friday’s arrests, the girl’s father told reporters that the parents’ sorrow will never heal.

“Even though two doctors were arrested, it is painful that we cannot hold the hospital itself responsible,” he said in a news conference held at the Gunma Prefectural Government.

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