Woman's lawsuit against hospital alleges misdiagnosis of breast cancer ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

July 07, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A 40-year-old Annapolis woman may soon die of cancer because doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center misdiagnosed a lump in her breast five years ago, her lawyer said yesterday.

Andrew H. Kahn told an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury that his client's career as a stockbroker was destroyed because she worried so much about the cancer. And an associate professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins Hospital said a tissue sample taken in 1988 should have rung alarm bells with the woman's doctors.

Nancy Condon, a former nurse and stockbroker, is suing the Annapolis hospital, alleging the misdiagnosis of her breast cancer in 1988 gave it time to spread throughout her body and become life-threatening before it was discovered a year and a half later.

She did not specify a dollar amount in her suit.

Lawyers for the hospital deny the allegation, saying Ms. Condon already was suffering from the cancer when she first had a biopsy of her right breast in July 1988.

Mr. Kahn said in opening statements yesterday that the former registered nurse became concerned about a lump in her right breast and went for a biopsy in 1988 just as her new career as a stockbroker was taking off.

"A few days later, she got a call. 'Don't worry,' she was told, 'It's not cancer,' " Mr. Kahn quoted hospital personnel as saying.

But the breast seemed to harden a year and a half later. And on Feb. 23, 1990, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital detected an invasive form of cancer that by then had spread to eight of the lymph nodes in her right armpit.

As a result, Ms. Condon has had a bilateral mastectomy, has lost her hair in chemotherapy, has had several operations to remove tumors, suffers from depression and nightmares and is taking experimental drugs to bring on menopause to fight the spread of cancerous cells, Mr. Kahn said.

She also lost her job with Prudential Bache, where she was voted national Rookie of the Year in 1985, and where she was named an associate vice president and earned about $139,000 in 1987, he said.

"She wasn't quite able to focus," Mr. Kahn said. "She would call people up and tell them about this great new stock and be worrying about if she was going to be dead in a few weeks."

Dr. Francis Kuhajda, the Hopkins professor, told the jury of four men and two women that the tissue sample taken from Ms. Condon in 1988 should have prompted doctors to remove either the right breast or the lump it contained.

Dr. William Williams, Ms. Condon's pathologist, who is now dead, diagnosed the lump as atypical hyperclasia, a relatively benign condition, according to testimony.

"That diagnosis was wrong," Dr. Kuhajda testified. "It did breach the standard of care" accepted by the medical community, he said.

He was the only witness yesterday in a trial expected to last for two weeks before Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr.

Roy Cowdry, a hospital lawyer, said medical experts will show that at the time of Ms. Condon's biopsy in 1988, the cancer had reached a point where it would have invaded the eight lymph nodes.

Moreover, he said, the Maryland Health Claims Arbitration Panel, which must decide on such claims before they are filed in Circuit Court, has ruled unanimously in the hospital's favor.

Because Dr. Williams was under a professional contract with the hospital and worked independently, the hospital should not be held liable, Mr. Cowdry said.

It would be like holding a landlord liable for the actions of a tenant's child, Mr. Cowdry said.

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