OVERLOOKED TUMOR LEADS TO MAN’S PREVENTABLE DEATH
Doe*, Plaintiff vs. SMITH*, Defendant
13th Circuit, Hillsborough County, Florida
The plaintiff, age 36, presented to Tampa General Hospital for evaluation
of a lesion in the proximal femur of his left hip in November, 1995. Dr.
Art Walling, an orthopedic oncologist, scheduled plaintiff for a biopsy.
The biopsy was sent to the Pathology Department at Tampa General Hospital
where the defendant pathologists read the biopsy as normal. Due to the
normal reading, Dr. Walling evacuated the lesion, packed the area with
bone graft material and then inserted orthopedic hardware, including orthopedic
plates and screws to stabilize the femur.
Over the ensuing 14 months, plaintiff’s lesion did not heal. He had
14 subsequent surgeries, including 12 debridement procedures for suspected
infection. The orthopedic hardware was eventually removed and a muscle
flap procedure was performed. In November, 1996, plaintiff had a second
biopsy of the same site. iopsy slides were then sent to M.D. Anderson
in Houston, Texas and to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida
in Gainesville, Florida. Dr. Alberto Ayala at M.D. Anderson and Dr. Suzanne
Spanier at Shands both interpreted the 1996 biopsy slides as angiosarcoma,
a malignant vascular tumor in plaintiff’s femur. Plaintiff immediately
underwent an amputation of his leg and hip.
After making the cancer diagnosis, Dr. Ayala and Dr. Spanier requested
re-cut slides from the November, 1995 biopsy. The defendant pathologist,
having received word that her patient was diagnosed with a malignant vascular
tumor and that pathologists at M.D. Anderson and Shands were requesting
re-cuts of the tissue that she diagnosed as normal, instructed histotechnicians
at the Tampa General Hospital laboratory to destroy portions of plaintiff’s
pathology specimen and to make re-cuts from only selected portions of
the 1995 tissue. The “new”re-cuts were sent to M.D. Anderson
and Shands and, despite the selected presentation, both institutions diagnosed
the 1995 tissue as cancerous.
Plaintiff, having lost his leg and hip, required chemotherapy and follow
up treatment. The cancer, however, metastasized to his lungs and he died
in September, 1997. His wife continued the case as a wrongful death action.
In March, 1998, during the deposition of a histotechnician at Tampa General
Hospital, we learned for the first time of the defendant pathologist’s
cover up and further discovered that the histotechnician who had been
ordered by the defendant to destroy certain tissue had actually saved
the tissue in a plastic bag in his desk drawer. The histotechnician produced
the bag and the tissue specimen at the deposition. The tissue was then
sent to an independent pathology lab and slides were made. Plaintiff’s
expert, Steven Hajdu, M.D., reviewed the slides and determined that the
removed tissue contained the most prolific and obvious example of a malignant
vascular tumor. According to Dr. Hajdu, the 1995 biopsy, which was the
one misdiagnosed by the defendant pathologist, revealed a low grade, treatable
malignant vascular tumor in plaintiff’s proximal femur. At that
time the tumor had an excellent prognosis, the plaintiff would have not
needed any amputation, and the probabilities were that, with proper treatment,
the plaintiff would have survived.
Dr. Ayala at M.D. Anderson testified that the defendant pathologist deviated
from the standard of care.
The plaintiff was a custom home builder in Florida before his death. His
annual earnings at the time of his death were approximately $40,000.
The present value of the lost earnings and support claim was $900,000.
He had no children.
* We are not permitted to disclose the actual names of the parties pursuant
to the terms of the settlement agreement.