(CNN) — Two years ago, Dr. Ricardo Quarrie, a cardiothoracic fellow at Yale New Haven Hospital, was publicly accused of lying to a patient to cover up a surgical mistake.
The stories went viral and the ramifications were swift and severe: Quarrie says he became a “pariah” and potential employers have shunned him. Accused of such a heinous act, his promising future in a prestigious field disappeared.
Now, the lawyer who accused Quarrie has recanted.
CNN exclusively obtained a copy of the July 16 statement from New Haven, Connecticut, attorney Joel Faxon.
In his statement, Faxon said Quarrie did not lie to his client, who was a patient at Yale.
“The statements attributed to Dr. Quarrie were made by another health care practitioner at the hospital, or his designee,” Faxon wrote. “I hope this letter clarifies any misunderstandings.”
Multiple news outlets, including CNN, covered Faxon’s original remarks accusing Quarrie of lying to the patient. Even though it’s been two years, those stories show up prominently on the first page of a Google search of Quarrie’s name.
“Employers told me I was very qualified for positions, but patients Google their doctors, and they didn’t feel like they could refer patients to me,” said the cardiothoracic surgeon, who trained at Yale, the Cleveland Clinic and Ohio State.
“It’s been a nightmare,” added Quarrie, the father of two young children. “The spread of that information — or misinformation — is so rapid, and people really do believe what they read.”
Quarrie, 36, says the statement is a first step toward reclaiming his name.
“But that’s two years of my life I can’t have back,” he said.
Digital experts say it might be too late to reverse the damage to Quarrie’s career. When patients do a Google search, the old stories that say Quarrie lied might appear higher on the search than any stories that might be written about the July 16 retraction.
“That’s the power of the Internet and the digital age: You can cause extensive damage and ruin people’s lives,” said Craig Bullick, chief operating officer of Empathiq, a company that helps doctors manage their online reviews but which Quarrie does not use.
The wrong rib removed
In 2015, Deborah Craven had surgery at Yale to remove part of her eighth rib.
Quarrie assisted in that surgery. At the time, he was on a two-year training fellowship at Yale.
The hospital admits that a mistake was made in that surgery. Craven’s lawsuit details how her seventh rib was removed instead of her eighth rib, and she then had a second surgery to remove the correct rib.
But her lawsuit goes on to say something that later turned out not to be true: She accused Quarrie by name of lying to her about the reason for the second surgery to cover up the mistake.
Multiple media outlets, including CNN, reported on the mistake and alleged coverup.
Faxon, the patient’s lawyer, told a Hartford television station that Quarrie had told his client “lies” and was “just plain deceitful.”
In his retraction last month, Faxon wrote that he believed those statements to be true when he said them in March 2016.
“However, information uncovered in the course of the litigation’s discovery phase demonstrates inaccuracies in those statements,” he said.
During that discovery phase, his client accused two other Yale staffers — a physician’s assistant and a different doctor — of lying to her. She said she didn’t even speak to Quarrie about her surgery.
CNN asked Faxon why he thought Quarrie had been responsible for the alleged coverup when his own client, just a few months after his television interview, said explicitly that Quarrie was not the staffer who had misled her.
Faxon said he couldn’t comment due to a confidentiality agreement with Yale.
CNN was unable to reach Craven, who settled her case with Yale. When she filed her lawsuit two years ago, the hospital said in a statement that it recognized that a mistake had been made and that staff had apologized to Craven. A hospital spokesman declined to comment for this story.
The long road to recovery
Quarrie says he has no idea why the lawsuit and Faxon labeled him as telling lies.
“I can only wonder about his motivation, but I don’t think I’ll ever know the truth,” Quarrie said.
Quarrie says now he’s focused on recovering, both financially and emotionally, from being wrongly accused.
While he was at Yale but before Craven filed her lawsuit, Quarrie was accepted into a one-year training program at the Cleveland Clinic. He said the hospital allowed him to stay on longer as a trainee.
Quarrie said he won’t file a lawsuit against Faxon because it would take too long. He said he promised not to file a lawsuit as a condition of getting the statement from Faxon.
He said he’s paying an online reputation company nearly $900 a month to help him reclaim his name.
The surgeon said he’s been angry and struggled with periods of depression from being wrongly accused.
“I’ve always wanted to be a heart surgeon. Since I was 6 years old, that’s all I’ve wanted to do,” he said. But as job after job fell through because of the false accusations, he says, he considered leaving medicine.
He said his family persuaded him to keep going.
“I want to be able to provide a better future for my children than what I had,” said Quarrie, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Florida when he was 12.
He said his wife told him that the truth will come out in the end.
He said he hopes stories about Faxon’s new statement will end up at the top of Google’s results, satisfying potential employers that patients will see those stories first, instead of the years-old stories that accused him of lying.
According to Google, old stories typically don’t rank higher than new stories.
But digital experts say old stories can rank higher if those old stories were particularly popular. They said negative stories — in this case, the old stories about the surgical error and a coverup — tend to be passed around on social media, giving them even more staying power through search engine optimization.
“The stories about the retraction won’t have the same SEO ‘juice’ as the earlier negative stories,” said Jonathan Catley, director of sales and marketing for MD Connect, a company that helps doctors manage their online reputations, which also isn’t involved in Quarrie’s case.
Empathiq’s Bullick agreed.
“Recanting is not going to be as popular,” he said. “I feel bad for him.”
Quarrie says he knows that Faxon’s statement won’t instantly change anything.
“I know I have a long road ahead,” he said.
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