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Young Cancer Patient Given 17 Massive Overdoses of Radiation that Could Prove Fatal

Horrendous Mistakes Mark Third Time In As Many Weeks That 'Human Error' Leaves Officials Scrambling for Explanations and Promising Investigations

Feb 10, 2006 | Newsinferno News Staff In a period of less than three weeks, the UK has been shaken by a series of inexcusable medical mistakes than have left the public as well as health officials in shocked disbelief.

While the public wonders how so many potentially fatal errors could have been made by highly qualified doctors and medical personnel, officials are faced with the task of investigating and explaining the indefensible blunders and restoring confidence in a now badly damaged healthcare system.   

This unbelievable sequence of events began two weeks ago when it was revealed that numerous mammograms had been mistakenly read as being cancer-free by the same radiologist working at North Manchester General Hospital in Crumpsall and Tafford General in the UK.

To date, at least 28 woman were wrongly advised their scans were negative when, if fact, they actually revealed the presence of breast cancer in its early and more treatable stages.

At least 17 of those women are now suffering from advanced stages of the disease and are at serious risk of dying as a result of the misdiagnoses. The investigation into the matter only promises to uncover more examples of malpractice by this radiologist.

Less than a week later, came another startling report of misread tests at the same medical trust. This time, hospital officials admitted more than 1,000 patients may have been wrongly diagnosed with heart problems by a cardiac technician at Fairfield General Hospital in Bury, Greater Manchester, when, in truth, the readings were actually normal.

Some 1,053 patients have been notified by the hospital that their records must be re-examined due to errors that were found in evaluating echocardiogram tests.

Dr. Ruth Jameson, acting medical director of Pennine Acute Trust, which runs the hospital, said: "This technician, who was supplied by an agency, is no longer doing any work for the Trust."

According to Dr. Jameson, not all patients who had undergone ultrasound heart scans were affected. Only those who had seen this specific unnamed technician between May 23 and December 7 are at risk of having inaccurate echocardiograms.

Dr Jameson said: "We are hopeful that the particular echocardiograms will not have had a major adverse effect on patients but the only way we can assure our patients that they are having the appropriate care is to carry out this review."

The review is expected to take several weeks and hospital officials have not yet determined whether any patients were given the wrong medication as a result of the cardiac technician’s errors.

Now, possibly the most horrendous error in this appalling trilogy has come to light.

After undergoing months of treatment for a brain tumor that included 17 sessions of radiation therapy, a 15-year-old girl was given the “all clear” by her oncologists only be told shortly thereafter that she now faces, brain damage, paralysis, and eventual death, not from her cancer, but from the treatment she received.

As it turns out, at each of her 17 radiotherapy sessions Lisa Norris received a massive overdose of radiation.

This horrible mistake (17 horrible mistakes to be more accurate) has left Lisa in constant pain, and unable to sleep. Her red and blistered body is burned to the point where she must take frequent cold showers simply to cool down.

She has literally been cooked from the inside with doses of radiation so excessive that she has been told that there is the distinct likelihood she has suffered irreparable brain damage that may leave her paralyzed and eventually kill her in as little as 10 to 15 years.

Ironically, she has been sentenced to a protracted and hideous death by her doctors and not by the cancer from which they were trying to save her.

The hospital, Beatson Oncology Centre in Glasgow has admitted that "human error" had led to Lisa being given overdoses at each of her 17 scheduled radiotherapy sessions. Beatson is the second largest cancer centre in the UK and has a global reputation.

According to The Daily Mail, which has been following this story from the beginning:

Professor Alan Rodger, the center's medical director, said: "My colleagues and I deeply regret the error that has led to Lisa Norris being given an overdose of radiation during her course of treatment. The staff involved with his isolated incident is extremely distraught. Initial meetings have taken place with Lisa and her family and we will do everything in our power to support them in the challenges ahead."

"I've been told I could be brain damaged, could be paralyzed and in ten to 15 years I might not be here, I could die," Lisa said. "I could have a scar on my head or brain which can lead to strokes, heart attacks and whatever else.

"I don't know what is going to happen to me, it could happen in the next six months to a year. We just don't know what is going to happen. "I've got burns on the back of my neck and ears and they're starting to blister.

"I can't sleep because I can't lie on my back. I can't really do much, my mum has to help me put my clothes on."

Lisa’s distraught parents are not inclined to simply accept the center’s apology. They want the five staff members responsible for the errors fired.

Lisa also stated (as reported by The Daily Mail: "I'm really angry with them, they shouldn't be able to get away with it," said Lisa, from Girvan, Ayrshire.

"By rights, they should be put out of their jobs and not allowed to work in the NHS ever again because it could happen to somebody else."

Prior to the bungled radiation therapy, Lisa had undergone chemotherapy that had sickened her and made her hair fall out. Following the radiotherapy, however, Lisa and her parents were told that the tumor was gone.

Shortly thereafter, however, Kenneth and Elizabeth Norris were told that “two consultants were coming to see them.” (Daily Mail). "We knew something was wrong," said Mrs. Norris, 49. "You never hear of consultants visiting your house, so alarm bells were ringing."

Her husband, a 50-year-old joiner, said: "It just knocked us for six. We've not been able to sleep a night since. If they can do this to Lisa, they can do this to anyone."

A full-scale inquiry into this tragic medical blunder has already begun.  “The inquiry is being conducted by the Department of Health and the radiation protection division of the UK Health Protection Agency.”

“It has not yet emerged how the wrong dose of radiation was administered 17 times.”

“But it is thought that the wrong level was given on Lisa's first session and then repeated because it was written in the notes with no one spotting that it was too high.” (Daily Mail)

Lisa, who is now being home-schooled, will be having an MRI brain scan in three weeks to start the process of assessing her condition.

Martin Ledwick, of Cancer Research UK, said: "Obviously as a health professional working with cancer patients for a number of years I was very shocked and surprised that this happened as I'm aware of all the checks that are in place to avoid this sort of mistake being made."

Nonetheless, the mistake was made (repeatedly) and a young girl’s life is now in jeopardy. The series of extreme errors involving highly reputable hospitals and supposedly highly trained doctors and medical personnel revealed over the past three weeks must be explained and their repetition prevented before any measure of public confidence can be restored.

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