Widow wins claim against medical lab Columbia woman to get $1.6 million

November 26, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

A Howard County widow has won a $1.6 million malpractice suit against a Maryland laboratory and one of its employees.

The state Health Claims Arbitration Board ruled Monday in favor of Suzanne Forde of Columbia, whose husband, Richard, died of cancer in February 1990.

Mrs. Forde claimed that Maryland Medical Laboratory of Baltimore and one of its pathologists, the late Dr. Walter King, failed to diagnose her husband's stomach cancer more than two years before it killed him.

"This is a small price to pay for a life that was so special," Mrs. Forde said.

Brian Nash, a Bethesda attorney who represents the defendants, said Dr. King correctly diagnosed the patient's condition as benign in 1987.

Mr. Nash said he would appeal the verdict to Howard Circuit Court.

"I guess we're going to have to have some other people decide who's right," Mr. Nash said.

Officials at the laboratory were unavailable for comment.

Mr. Forde, a cryptographer, or person who deciphers codes, had worked at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade since 1960.

According to Jonathan Schochor, a Baltimore attorney who represents Mrs. Forde, Mr. Forde underwent surgery in April 1987 at Howard County General Hospital for a bleeding gastric ulcer.

The surgeon removed tissue from the ulcer and forwarded it to Dr. King, who worked for Maryland Medical Laboratory.

Initially, Dr. King determined the tissue was cancerous, according to lab records.

But the final pathology report, which was signed by Dr. King, said there was no indication of cancer.

Mr. Nash said the change arose when Dr. King sent the tissue to two other pathologists, who did further tests indicating it was benign.

"This was a very concerted effort," Mr. Nash said.

In November 1989, Mr. Forde noticed that his stomach felt full even before he ate.

By the time doctors discovered the cause, cancer had spread from the stomach to the bowel and into the lymph nodes, Mr. Schochor said.

After undergoing major surgery twice, Mr. Forde died at the age of 54.

During its initial examination in 1987, Maryland Medical Laboratory had made slides of the ulcer tissue.

Mr. Schochor showed the slides to two pathologists and an oncologic surgeon. All three identified the tissue as containing early cancer.

"There were clearly malignant cells under the microscope that were missed," Mr. Schochor said.

Had the cancer been caught in 1987, Mr. Forde would have had an 85 percent to 95 percent chance of being cured, Mr. Schochor said.

Dr. King was never able to explain his side of the story. He died in 1989.

Mrs. Forde filed the case with the arbitration board in 1991.

The board uses three-member panels to rule on medical malpractice suits that exceed $20,000.

Each panel consists of an attorney, a physician and a lay person.

John Burgan, the panel chairman, declined to discuss the case until the appeals process is complete.

Mrs. Forde said she did not know much about her husband's job at the National Security Agency because most of his work was confidential.

At home, however, Mr. Forde pursued many hobbies.

He made beer and wine, and he had a great love of electronics.

"I never had to pay to have anything repaired in the house," his wife recalled.

Mrs. Ford said this week's verdict has given her some peace of mind.

"When I come home to an empty house, I can say to myself, 'I did the best I could for you, Richard.' "

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.