Prostate lost to an error, patient will get $550,000

March 11, 1995|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Writer

St. Agnes Hospital has agreed to pay $550,000 to a former patient whose prostate gland was mistakenly removed after his biopsy was confused with that of a man who had cancer.

Alfred R. Murter, 59, who said he was left impotent after the prostate surgery, was a healthy man when he entered the operating room last April 18.

The Bel Air resident agreed to surgery after the St. Agnes pathology laboratory reported that it had found evidence of cancer in tissue drawn during a biopsy.

His private urologist referred him to St. Joseph Medical Center for the operation, believing that removal of the entire prostate was necessary to prevent cancer from spreading.

The mistake came to light after the operation, when St. Joseph pathologists examined the prostate and found it to be free of cancer. When they requested a re-examination of the biopsied tissue, a St. Agnes pathologist discovered that someone had mistakenly labeled some of the original tissue with the word "adenocarcinoma" -- a cancer diagnosis that actually belonged to another patient.

"I have to tell you, they owned up to it," said Gary Strausberg, an Owings Mills attorney who represented the Murters in a malpractice claim against St. Agnes.

"In many cases, [hospitals] wouldn't be as forthright to immediately admit on a regular medical record that such a mistake had been made."

St. Joseph Medical Center was not involved in the lawsuit.

The claim was filed jointly by Mr. Murter and his wife, Gertrude R. Murter, who in legal papers said St. Agnes' negligence caused harm "to the detriment of their marital relationship."

They have been married 37 years and have three grown children. The man is being treated for his impotence, Mr. Strausberg said.

"We regret the error and we have taken steps to assure that it does not happen again," Anna Gable, a St. Agnes spokeswoman, said yesterday.

The settlement was reached earlier this week. Mr. Strausberg said the hospital presented a reasonable offer before the case was even filed with the state Office of Health Claims Arbitration, where malpractice claims are initially adjudicated.

Mr. Murter went to St. Agnes for a prostate biopsy after a blood test performed by his urologist showed an elevated level of the prostate specific antigen, a natural chemical that sometimes becomes more concentrated in the presence of cancer. The urologist recommended the biopsy to confirm or rule out cancer.

Tissue taken during the biopsy was divided among several slides, which pathologists viewed under a microscope. Though none of the slides carried evidence of cancer, tissue from one side of Mr. Murter's prostate was mistakenly labeled with another patient's results.

The other patient was later treated for his cancer, Ms. Gable said.

That patient was not denied a proper diagnosis and treatment because only some of his tissue samples were switched with Mr. Murter's, according to the couple's lawyer. The rest were correctly labeled as cancerous.

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