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Falling Through the Cracks in the Health Care System

Medical Malpractice

Gwen Easton* was a retired school district administrator.  She was in early seventies, and living in the upstate New York Capital District Region.  She was very spiritual and actively involved with a local Baptist church. Gwen’s husband had died earlier, so Gwen spent most of her time with her two grown daughters and their grandchildren.   She watched them after they got off from school. They would come over her house, and help her do some chores. She cooked for them and showered them with love as only a grandmother can do. She was the family patriarch.

On fall day at a local hospital, Gwen had a routine screening mammogram.  The test came back Bi-Rads 3 which is a designation meaning that is suspicious for breast cancer and requiring further follow-up.   Gwen was referred to a hospital based surgeon who examined Gwen in January of the following year. He recommended further testing. Gwen had that test done at the same hospital.  This time the test came back Bi-Rads 4 meaning that there it was now probable that Gwen had breast cancer.  

Unfortunately for Gwen, no one from the hospital radiology department, the hospital, or the surgeon’s office told this to Gwen.  The surgeon’s office was supposed to schedule a follow up visit with Gwen to review and discuss the tests, but never did. There was apparently a miscommunication between the radiology department and the surgeon.  

Gwen didn’t know she had breast cancer. She believed that that the hospital and surgeon would call her if she did. That summer she had further routine mammograms which again showed Bi-Rads 4.  Again, there was a communication failure, and again Gwen was not informed. A few months later, she developed obvious signs of breast cancer, prompting a visit to her doctors. They diagnosed her with late stage, aggressive breast cancer.  It was too late. Surgeons biopsied the mass but could not operate. She died a few months later, days before she was to start chemotherapy. 

We sued the hospital, and the surgeon for failing to communicate with Gwen, for not scheduling a follow-up, and for not acting on the suspicious radiology findings.   We secured a settlement on behalf of Gwen and her adult children. This was based in part on the care and nurturing that Gwen had provided to the grandchildren.

*All client names and some details have been changed to protect client identity and maintain the attorney client privilege.