A full-time surgeon at King/Drew, Heard was faulted in the 1992 death of Sheriff's Deputy Nelson Yamamoto.
Since then, Heard has been named in three other malpractice suits resulting in payouts to people he treated while moonlighting at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. They include a $285,000 jury award in 1999 to a patient who suffered a massive infection after Heard missed a perforation in his esophagus during surgery, court records say.
Another case, which was settled for an undisclosed sum, also prompted a formal accusation from the Medical Board of California in 2002. The board accused Heard of misdiagnosing a 27-year-old man with appendicitis when he actually had Crohn's disease, an intestinal disorder.
According to the board's allegations, Heard told Brian Kelly's family that he had removed Kelly's appendix, and he billed the man's insurance company for the procedure. Heard hadn't removed the organ, however. He had stitched through Kelly's intestinal tract, the board said, and after an infection developed, another doctor operated and found "a normal, intact appendix."
Heard has asked for a hearing to contest the board's allegations, but declined to comment on them in an interview. In the sheriff's deputy case, he said, the board did not pursue discipline against him after he passed an oral examination.
In general, Heard acknowledged making some mistakes but said all surgeons did, especially in difficult cases.
"I want you to find me a surgeon that works in a high-risk field and find one that has not had any type of adverse action against him," he said.
Dr. Richard Branan
BRANAN was hired as a neurosurgeon at King/Drew in 2002, four months after a Colorado jury found him at fault in the care of a patient and ordered him to pay a $5.8-million malpractice award. It was one of the largest such verdicts in that state's history.
The patient, an inspector at a nuclear weapons plant, had become paralyzed after Branan removed a suspicious mass from his back, the lawsuit said.
After a judge reduced the jury award, Branan settled the case last year for more than $1.5 million, according to a Times analysis of data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a clearinghouse for information on malpractice and discipline against doctors.
Branan settled three other cases last year for $70,000 to $350,000, and one for an unspecified sum this year involving care he provided in Colorado.
Branan faced other difficulties in his career: He was terminated from one neurosurgical job in Colorado in 1996 and was asked to leave his physician-training program in the mid-1970s.
In both cases, his difficulties arose from conflicts with other doctors, according to his own testimony in one Colorado lawsuit. Branan declined to comment.
Dr. Sharon Ashley