A doctor suspected of negligence in the death of a 12-year-old girl was sent to prosecutors Sunday. He apparently failed to inform his surgical team of a change in method during the girl’s operation, investigative sources said Sunday.

As a result, the team at the Tokyo Women’s Medical University Hospital was unable to understand why the girl’s condition abruptly changed and to prevent it from worsening, the sources said. The incident occurred in March 2001.

Investigators found that the doctor, Kazuki Sato, switched blood-pumping methods during the girl’s heart surgery after the first method failed.

Sato’s voice, however, was inaudible to all but one nearby staff member, so the others were unaware of his decision, the investigators found.

Sato, 38, was operating the heart-lung machine, which stopped functioning during the operation on Akika Hirayanagi on March 2, 2001.

In addition, Sato allegedly operated the machine incorrectly after changing the method. This is thought to have caused Hirayanagi to fall into a coma. She died three days later.

Police on Sunday also sent the head of the surgical team, Kazuhiro Seo, 46, to prosecutors.

Seo is suspected of destroying evidence relevant to Hirayanagi’s death at the hospital, police said.

He allegedly concealed the evidence by ordering a chief nurse to falsify data in a bid to cover up the malpractice after the surgery.

Under his orders, the chief nurse allegedly falsified some of the data but refused to complete the falsification. Seo is suspected of completing the falsification.

Seo flatly denied the allegations initially. He has since partly admitted that he ordered the chief nurse to falsify the data. Seo continues to deny falsifying the data himself.

Concerning the change in the blood-pumping methods, investigative sources said Sato and Seo gave conflicting statements. Sato said he had informed Seo about the change in method, but Seo said he had not been informed.

Police also sent papers to prosecutors on the chief nurse, 54, who allegedly concealed the evidence, and a 31-year-old clinical engineer who was allegedly involved in the falsification of the data.

Lawyers for the two doctors said they will file complaints against the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office for “unreasonable detention” should the office detain the two doctors.

It is extremely rare in Japan for doctors to be arrested for suspected malpractice.

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