Rockhampton hospital, generic.    Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Rockhampton hospital, generic. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison ROK290816chospital5

Woman's alleged trauma after hospital loses cancer sample

LAWYERS for Central Queensland Hospital and Health service have admitted Rockhampton Hospital breached its duty of care during a cancer testing procedure, which a woman says caused her "major psychological trauma" and acute heart condition.

Documents lodged in Rockhampton District Court claim the woman was forced to have aggressive cancer therapy after the sentinel node which was to be used to determine treatment options was "inadvertently discarded".

A letter from the hospital's lawyers has been included in the woman's claim.

It states Rockhampton Hospital "admits that it breached its duty of care" to the woman in losing the node.

According to court documents, the then 63-year-old woman was admitted to Rockhampton Hospital in March 2014 with a breast cancer diagnosis.

The Morning Bulletin has not named the woman due to the extent of the psychological injuries she says she suffered,

The lymph node specimen was "lost or discarded in transit from the operating theatre to the pathology laboratory", the claim says.

The sentinel nodes are the first lymph nodes into which a tumour drains, if found to be free of cancer then it's likely the disease hasn't spread and removing extra lymph nodes is unnecessary.

When told two weeks later, the woman claims she became distressed.

"As an ex-nurse she would have some technical knowledge of the implications of this (the loss of the sentinel node)," a report included in the documents says.

A second report stated the woman was "furious, upset, had never heard of such a thing" and was "very distressed".

Without conclusive results from the node, the woman was advised to go through the highest chemotherapy treatment of six cycles.

Had the node returned a negative test, this treatment would have been reduced to four cycles.

After being told of the node's loss, the woman claims she developed Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.

This sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscle is a recognised cause of acute heart failure and other serious conditions.

"That scared the life out of her, threw her life into insecurity," a report by a psychiatrist stated.

The report states the woman's stress over how to pay her mortgage with no income and a feeling of being "treated as if she were invisible" led to the diagnosis of her heart condition and her re-admission to hospital.

In September 2014, a radiotherapist told the woman she would require radiation therapy to her breast and armpit on the assumption those lymph nodes were involved.

The documents alleged the woman developed stress induced cardiomyopathy and was forced to undergo extended chemotherapy and more complex radiotherapy as a result of the lost lymph node.

Reports outline the woman's bad reaction to chemotherapy and the numerous physical and psychological symptoms she suffered as a result.

One report concluded the "emotional trauma" of this led to the development of a heart condition with "added further to her stress, disability and need for hospitalisation".

The woman told a psychiatrist the chemotherapy "was cruel, really cruel".

Now aged 66, the woman has been unable to continue work "due to the physical complications" of the treatment and condition.

She now receives the aged pension, but had planned to work as long as she was able due to financial circumstances.

The woman is also unable to drive as a result of the heart condition, relying on the assistance of family members.

Documents state the woman and her legal team are formulating an offer of settlement, with no claim value available at this stage.

A letter from the hospital's lawyers dated January 17, 2017 stated the woman's treatment and its affects were "no different by reason of the loss of the node".

However, it is a position they would revisit after further medical reports.

The court process is ongoing.

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