The estate of a New Jersey woman who died after her cancer went undiagnosed has been awarded over one million dollars via a settlement agreement. According to the lawsuit, physicians who treated the woman made multiple errors related to a biopsy conducted three years before her death.
Dina Wyckoff, a 31-year-old woman from New Jersey, visited a local emergency room in 2013 with severe abdominal pain. She underwent an endoscopy and surgery to repair a stomach ulcer. During the surgery, a biopsy was taken and sent to a pathologist. Mrs. Wyckoff was informed that the results of the biopsy were benign – no signs of cancer were present. However, over the next three years, she began to experience other painful symptoms and eventually was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She died in 2016 at the age of 34.
The lawsuit filed by the family named both the gastroenterologist and the pathologist involved in the 2013 procedures. A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in the digestive, or gastrointestinal system, which includes the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, and bile ducts. A pathologist is a physician who studies the tissue and fluids of the body to help diagnose disease. Rather than working with patients, pathologists interpret lab results for other doctors.
According to the lawsuit, errors were made that resulted in the finding of normal rather than cancerous cells. The lawsuit claims that the biopsy was taken from the incorrect location and also questions the decision not to perform a second endoscopy when the ulcer did not appear to be healing. The claim asserts that if the cancer had been accurately diagnosed at this time, Mrs. Wyckoff would have had a five-year survival rate of 50% to 68%.
Lawyers representing the defendant physicians argued that the failure to diagnose did not have a significant impact on the outcome of her cancer, claiming that since the cancer had already metastasized by the time Mrs. Wyckoff had her 2013 surgery, any delay would not have affected her life expectancy.
The case was set to head to trial in October of 2020, but the parties mutually agreed to a settlement. The defendant pathologist agreed to pay one million dollars, while the defendant gastroenterologist agreed to pay $275,000.
Cancer ranks among the “big three” in diagnostic errors. According to a report by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute Center for Diagnostic Excellence released earlier this year, cancer, cardiovascular events, and infections comprise 74% of all serious harms from diagnostic errors. The study further found that over one-third of malpractice cases involving death or permanent disability began with an errant or delayed diagnosis, making it the biggest cause of serious harm among all types of medical errors.
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