Malpractice lawsuit accuses hospital of mishandling X-ray

Negligence delayed diagnosis, allowed cancer to spread, says woman, 19

`Her condition is terminal'

April 28, 2004|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A 19-year-old Baltimore woman is suing Harbor Hospital, charging that it lost, misfiled and failed to read a critical X-ray, delaying the diagnosis of what she says is now a terminal cancer.

Harbor Hospital officials said they could not comment because the matter is in litigation.

In the malpractice suit filed this week in Baltimore City Circuit Court, Britney Bownes and her mother, Joyce Oliver, contend that radiologists at Harbor Hospital's family-care clinic misfiled an X-ray of Bownes' left knee that was taken when she visited the clinic March 30, 2001.

Bownes, then 15, had gone to the clinic complaining of pain in her right knee. According to the nine-page complaint, a doctor prescribed ibuprofen and diagnosed the problem as "growing pains."

Bownes and her mother were told they would be contacted by the hospital if the X-ray that was taken showed anything abnormal.

"No one subsequently contacted Mr. Bownes or her mother about the X-rays," the suit says.

When the pain in Bownes' knee worsened several months later, she and her mother scheduled an appointment at Johns Hopkins Hospital to get a second opinion.

Hopkins doctors, the suit says, told Bownes to bring her X-rays and the report on the Harbor Hospital X-ray to the appointment. When the patient's mother called Harbor Hospital, she was told the X-rays could not be found.

Oliver went to Harbor Hospital on July 16, 2001, "and was told that a search had revealed that the X-rays of Ms. Bownes' knee taken on or about March 30, 2001, were filed under the name Britney Brown and had never been read by a radiologist."

The next day, the suit says, "Ms. Oliver received a horrifying phone call" informing her that her daughter's X-rays had just been read and that they showed a cancerous tumor in the spot where the girl had said she was experiencing pain.

A subsequent biopsy at Hopkins confirmed a cancerous tumor. Although the initial tests showed the cancer had not spread, the suit says that by October of 2002 the cancer had spread to Bownes' lung and by December to her spine.

"Ms. Bownes is currently undergoing a bone marrow transplantation. She has unfortunately been informed by her treating health care providers that there are no other chemotherapy treatments and/or radiation treatments available for her. She has also been informed that there is no cure for her cancer at this time and her condition is terminal," the suit says.

The suit concludes that the spread of the cancer "is a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the defendant for failing to timely diagnose and treat her cancer at a time when treatment could have saved her life."

Andrew Slutkin, the lawyer for Bownes and her mother, said the two are seeking $5 million in damages.

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