A Review of Dr. Stephan Nuccion of South Bay Orthopedics

Knee X-Ray showing screws going through growth plate in her small bone

I would not recommend Dr. Stephan L. Nuccion of South Bay Orthopedics in Torrance California. In fact, I would avoid Dr. Stephan Nuccion of at all costs. A surgery he did permanently damaged my young daughters knee and he attempted to cover it up by just never talking about it. I had to uncover each mistake by doing research and visiting other doctors. When confronted with the information I had found, I believe Dr. Nuccion lied to me. In short, I believe Dr. Nuccion to be less than competent and morally deficient.  Please read the entire story below and judge for yourself:

My 14 year old daughter suffered a dislocated knee cap (Patella) in November of 2016 that caused a piece of her femur to break off. We contacted Dr. Stephen Nuccion of South Bay Orthopedic who first took an x-ray and said he really couldn’t tell much from it and recommend an MRI. After the MRI was taken, he recommended surgery to do two things. He said he would be using two short headless titanium screws to attach the piece of the femur that had broken away and use absorb-able screws to attach an alograph ligament to repair her torn MPFL ligament. He said he would be sure to use short screws so he would avoid her growth plate and that he could do the surgery arthroscopic ally.

Quick note: At the time I did not know what a growth plate was or why it was significant. I was glad Dr. Nuccion knew about this and seemed to know what to do.

We scheduled surgery at the Prime Surgery Center in Torrance at 7 am in later November of 2016. Dr. Nuccion had scheduled 1 hour for the surgery from 7 – 8. When I saw his assistant schedule the surgery, I noticed that Dr. Nuccion had another appointment at 8AM. I was amazed that they scheduled things so tightly.

Dr. Nuccion arrived early and the surgery began 15 minutes before start time but by 8 we were still waiting with no information. I was very concerned about my daughter’s health. At 8:30 I was nauseous as 1 hour 45 minutes had elapsed. I asked the receptionist if everything was OK and she called back and said they “were still in the procedure”. Finally, Dr. Nuccion came out at 8:45 and said everything had gone well. He was not able to do the surgery arthroscopically as the piece of bone from my daughter’s femur had moved out of the area and he had trouble moving into place.

My wife and I had been worried about my daughter’s bone health as we wondered why this had happened in the first place. Immediately after the surgury, Dr. Nuccion told us that he could tell that my daughter had excellent bone health by the way the screws went in. He said he had to use three screws but she had excellent bone health.

They gave my Daughter a nerve block to help with the pain and told us to begin pain medication (Norco 5) when the nerve block wore off. However, the nerve block wore off around midnight that night and my daughter woke up in excruciating pain screaming. We gave her the two Norcos but they had no effect. We called the South Bay Orthopedic 24 hour “Hot Line” and got an automated response to put in our phone number and we would be immediately called back. This did not happen. We called and called as my daughter screamed in pain. I called emergency rooms and pharmacies trying to find one open and to ask for help. Moving my daughter would have been problematic as any movement exacerbated the pain. Finally, 3 hours after our first call, Dr Nuccion called us back. By then my daughter’s pain had started to diminish and Dr. Nuccion said he had nothing to offer as he is unable to phone in new pain medication prescriptions.

At our next appointment with Dr. Nuccion 8 days after the surgery, his assistants took my daughter to get an X-Ray. Since my daughter was nervous, I was allowed into the X-Ray room with her. When the first X-Ray was taken, the image immediately popped up on the screen.  I asked the technician if he could show me the growth plate (I was curious). He pointed at white lines that ran perpendicular to the femur and said “there”. But clearly, there were 3 screws going right through this area. I asked him about it and he said yes, they are going through the growth plate but he was only paid to take the X-Rays, not discuss implications.

After we got back into the examination, Dr Nuccion came in and called up the X-Rays. He said everything looked great, no sign of infection and the area where the screws were looked great. He said the surface of the joint looked really good. He said she would have the screws in her leg for the rest of her life. He said that it was “not recommended” to take the screws out. As Dr. Nuccion was wrapping up the session, I realized he was not going to mention anything about the growth plate, so I brought it up. Dr. Nuccion said it was fine and there was nothing to worry about.  I did find it odd that Dr. Nuccion had said one thing at our first appointment (that he would use short screws to avoid the growth plate) but now was saying it was fine that the he had not done what he had said.

We drove home happy about the results and focused on getting my daughter’s knee moving again. Once home, I decided to do some Internet research on growth plates. As I read, it became increasingly clear that screws through a growth plate were not fine. The screws would prevent the bone from growing in that area and would cause the joint to warp.

I called Dr. Nuccion’s office and asked for a call back. Dr. Nuccion called back early the next morning. When I explained my concern about growth plates, Dr. Nuccion said that based on what he saw in surgery and elsewhere he felt she was not going to grow much. I said that she was only 14,  still had baby teeth in her mouth and was a very young 14.  She is only 4’11”. Also her pediatrician said he felt she still was growing. Dr Nuccion then said “We can take the screws out if you want”. I was stunned. It was as if Stephen Nuccion was making up his recommendations as he went along.

The next day I started looking for a doctor for could give us a second opinion. I call LA Children's Hospital and they recommended a Dr. J. Lee Pace. We went in to see him on Dec. 13, 2016, and brought our X-Rays and MRI data. When Dr. Pace came into the exam room and looked at our X-Rays he shook his head and finally said “I would not have done it this way”. He said he wasn't there but said he just would not have done that. He said the issue was, once you “Pierce the Physis”, even if you remove the screws, a column of bone grows fills in and effectively forming a screw, preventing growth. Still, he said “if it were me, I would have the screws removed”. Dr Pace said there was a possibility that the growth plate over powers the bone column and breaks it and the joint can grow normally. Regardless, though, he said we needed to get X-Rays and MRIs on a regular basis and if the joint shows irregular growth that there were other surgeries that could be done that would help.

Dr. Pace also said that by looking at her X-Ray’s he said he could tell she still had quite a bit of growing to do. There was a growth plate lower down that he could see that he said was one of the first to close and my daughter’s was still open. This was something that Dr. Nuccion apparently missed.

We still had another appointment scheduled with Dr. Nuccion, a doctor that I more and more confused me. At this appointment he again said everything looked great. Said she needed to get more flexibility but that he wasn’t worried. He made no mention of the growth plate, the screws or our conversation about them. He just said all looked great and he wanted to see my daughter in 4 weeks.

I then asked for 10 minutes of his time in private.

We walked over to another room and I again brought up how I was concerned about the long screws through her growth plate. I told him we had talked to someone else who was quite sure my daughter had quite a bit more growth left in her. I said I had looked at the Xrays and that I work with wood and that he used insanely long screws to attach such a small fragment of bone on the end of her femur. I asked why he had used such long screws after telling us he was going to use short screws.

Dr Nuccion said that he had tried shorter ones but the he could not get “purchase” with them. He said he had to use the longer screws. I asked why he told us he could tell her bone health was excellent after the surgery based on how the screws went in. He said that he meant that about the longer screws. Still I said, with wood, one would choose a slightly fatter screw if you didn’t get purchase. At this point, Dr. Nuccion became noticeably agitated, his fingers shaking as pointed at the X-Ray and he told me that using a slightly fatter screw would damage more cartilage.

At this point in our meeting Dr. Nuccion said he felt the screws needed to be removed. He wanted to schedule surgery for the earliest possible time to get the screws out and said he would have his assistant call. Gina (the assistant) called when we were driving home from the appointment. We found that odd as we always had a hard time getting a hold of Gina in general when we needed something from her or Dr. Nuccion.

Side note on my discussion with Nuccion: After a surgery, a report is filed called the operative report that details exactly what was done in surgery. I believe Dr. Nuccion was lying to me about the shorter screws as this detail would have been in the operative report. Instead, Dr. Nuccion wrote in the report: “I used relatively long screws 32 to 34 mm because of the size of the subchondral bone and the need for compression". This says he used long screws because of the size of the femur, not because he tried shorter screws first.  He apparently forgot that he was working on a child and that he would be damaging her growth plate using long screws.

At our next appointment with Dr. Pace he took a new set of X-Rays of my daughter's knee. He also thought we should schedule the surgery to remove the screws but now noticed something else. He pointed to a dimple on the bone and said he couldn’t see this in our original X-Ray but he said he was very sure that that dimple was where an absorb-able screw had been used to attach the new ligament. He said that unfortunately, the attachment point Dr. Nuccion had used was above the growth plate on the femur. He said this is a problem with a person that is growing as the attachment point was going to move as growth occurred, and that would cause the ligament to tighten and change over time causing issues. He wanted to think about it but thought we should schedule a new surgery and that it was probably a good idea to redo the MPFL ligament reconstruction.

My daughter has had the second surgery and Dr. Pace removed the screws, removed scar tissue and removed the ligament that Dr. Nuccion had done. He redid her MPFL repair telling us after the surgery that the original work was definitely incorrect and had to be redone. My daughter is slowly recovering but she is very behind in her school work and there is a lot of pain. Dr. Pace we will have to wait and see to find out how the damage done by Dr. Nuccion to her growth plate plays out as she grows. It may be fine or it might not be. Unfortuantely, this is not the place a parent wants to be in with their child.

Dr. Stephen Nuccion may have just been rushed and made several mistakes. Still, he chose to try and cover that mistake by saying everything was fine. At each point, Dr Nuccion made choices that would benefit himself, not his patient. He, at no point, ever came clean.

I am deeply disappointed with Dr. Stephen L. Nuccion. At each step he has let us down. Even our first night home after surgery was horrendous and he was not available by phone as they said he would be. And we feel he was dishonest with us, both by witholding important information and by saying something in complete disagreement with his own words in his operative report.

Bottom line is this is not a man that should be trusted with your body, in my opinion.


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