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Patients with rare pain condition call for UC Irvine surgeon’s reinstatement to neurological surgery department and training role

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A jury awarded UC Irvine neurosurgeon Mark Linskey $2 million in a whistleblower retaliation case in April.
(UCI Health)

Patients with trigeminal neuralgia, a rare, chronic neuropathic pain condition, are calling for the reinstatement of Dr. Mark Linskey to the UC Irvine department of neurological surgery after a jury awarded him $2 million in a whistleblower retaliation case.

Linskey, a neurosurgeon at UC Irvine Medical Center, was awarded the damages in April after he alleged in a lawsuit that he was retaliated against, in violation of whistleblower protection laws, for filing a grievance against his supervisors.

Jury awards UC Irvine neurosurgeon $2 million in whistleblower retaliation case »

The lawsuit, filed in June 2016, alleged that two UCI medical officials pushed to move Linskey from the neurological surgery department to the department of general surgery after he filed a grievance about patient safety and conflicts of interest in March 2013.

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Though the jury ruled in Linskey’s favor, litigation is continuing as to whether he will return to his former position in the department of neurological surgery and the university’s residency training program.

A judge will hear additional evidence July 22 and a decision will be made within 30 days, according to Linskey’s attorney Ivan Puchalt.

UCI Health declined to comment about the continuing litigation.

Following news of the verdict, people with trigeminal neuralgia circulated an online petition calling for Linskey’s reinstatement. It had 1,588 signatures as of Friday morning.

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“He has alleviated his patients’ misery and restored their lives, for which the patient community is forever grateful,” wrote Kyra Wiedenkeller, a Manhattan resident and patient of Linskey’s who posted the petition. “It is not the reputation of UC Irvine that patients seek but rather the outstanding reputation of Dr. Linskey and the high standards he upholds for his patients.”

Wiedenkeller said in an interview Wednesday that “everybody in the community is such an advocate of his. … We’re all willing to do whatever it takes to help him.”

She said she plans to distribute the petition to department heads at UCI Medical Center and the judge presiding over Linskey’s case, Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenn Salter, to “make sure his patients are heard.”

Linskey said he was surprised and overwhelmed by the support and that he felt humbled and gratified.

“It’s not because they’re saying, ‘Oh, Dr. Linskey is great.’ They’re saying, ‘Look, we need people with this training and expertise training new surgeons,’” he said. “This is a recognition for what is needed from a public health and education perspective, and they are stepping in to ensure the quality of care for their children and the next generation.”

Trigeminal neuralgia affects the trigeminal nerve, the major facial nerve that carries sensations from the face to the brain.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes the effect as extreme, sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like facial pain that can last from a few seconds to two minutes per occurrence. The pain can happen in rapid succession and across periods as long as two hours.

Treatment is typically through medication or surgery.

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The institute estimates that for about every 100,000 people, there are 12 new cases of trigeminal neuralgia annually. The disorder is more common in women and those older than 50, but it can affect people of any demographic.

Mackenzie Winslow, 21, a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, said she was diagnosed when she was 11. She said she first heard of Linskey in February 2014 when she was 16.

She had surgery the following month.

“I fully believe that he saved my life in both a literal sense and sort of restored me,” Winslow said. “I just want him to be able to continue doing that for other patients, whether young or older, in a full capacity and also teaching new, younger doctors as well.”

Former patient Andy Petitjean said: “It’s one thing to be a neurosurgeon, but it’s another to be a neurosurgeon skilled in trigeminal neuralgia. … TN is very rare.

“I think the fact that he has not been training residents is tragic. Six years have gone by and he hasn’t been training. We need to get him reinstated so he can be training neurosurgeons how to deal with TN. The TN community desperately needs it.”

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This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m. and was later updated with additional information.


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