Monday, November 5, 2007
Medical Reports: Dangerous Diagnosis
With billions of lab tests each year mistakes do happen, sometimes with deadly consequences. Tonight, in a special assignment report, how you can avoid a Dangerous Diagnosis.
WSVN -- Positive or negative, when it comes to our lab results we trust they are right. Delilah Marshall did. Unfortunately, that trust would betray her.
Sharonlyn Marshall-Graves: "She wasn't comfortable with the pap smear. She knew something was wrong, but she trusted them."
Over a 5-year period, Delilah had repeated vaginal bleeding. Doctors did six pap-smears, three were normal, three abnormal. Despite that, Doctors continued to blame her symptoms on an infection.
Robert Boyers: "She was being treated at a government-run clinic and had three abnormal pap-smears that were completely disregarded, in favor of three normal pap smears that were, frankly, misread and unreliable."
Unreliable because Delilah had cervical cancer, and they missed it.
Sharonlyn Marshall-Graves: "By the time they figured out it was cancer it was too late. It was everywhere."
At just 40 years old, she was dead, leaving four children behind, dead from a cancer that should have been caught.
Sharonlyn Marshall-Graves: "They were just negligent, there is no other way to put it. My sister should not have died this way."
Unfortunately, Delilah's story is no uncommon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Delores Geary and Karin Smith both died of cervical cancer.
A lab tech skimmed over their slides and possibly didn't even read them. A judge actually found the lab guilty of two counts of reckless homicide, and they were ordered to pay the maximum fine of $10,000 on each count.
Vernon Hamley, Jr.: "My God tells me that I should forgive, but it's hard to forgive when nobody wants to admit they murdered my sister."
Last month, in the state of New York, a mother got a radical double mastectomy, only to be told, two weeks later, it was all a mistake.
Darrie Eason: "They told me, basically, 'You didn't have cancer, and you never did."
So you think these cases are the exception not the norm? Think again. With more than seven billion lab tests performed each year there's plenty of room for error.
Pat Caralis: "Pap smears are particularly interesting. One to 20 women will be told that they have a normal result, and they don't. It's very scary."
No matter what kind of test you have, it needs to protect yourself. Ask your doctor what lab he or she uses. Make sure that lab is accredited and approved by the College of American Pathologists. Then, when you go in for a test, ask to see your specimen, and make sure it has your name on it.
Pat Caralis: "One of the most common errors that's made is the wrong name, so, as your specimen is being done, make sure that the name that goes on it is yours."
When the tests come back, ask for the lab's pathology report. You might see something your doctor missed.
Bob Boyers: "It may, say, 'almost looks like cancer, looks like carcinoma, can't rule out cancer, further testing is indicated.' Language like that is often put on a path report, and while a doctor or a nurse might disregard it, I doubt very much that when you see that you're going to disregard it."
And, most importantly, trust your gut instinct. If a lab result doesn't seem right, speak up, ask for another test.
Pat Caralis: "When they get a test result that doesn't quite fit the picture, they should seek a second opinion."
The government-run clinic in Delilah's case reached a settlement with her family, but the family says no amount of money can make up for its Dangerous Diagnosis.
Sharonlyn Marshall-Graves: "There is no monetary value that can replace someone's life. The most important person that these four kids need in their life, and she's not there. She'll never be there again."
Lynn Martinez: "Keep in mind, you have the right to have your slides reviewed by another pathologist or hospital. Most insurers will pay for a second opinion.