Laverne Wilkinson began feeling chest pains when she visited Kings County Hospital. A doctor there told her to take an over-the-counter painkiller, but did not tell her that her chest X-ray revealed a suspicious nodule in her right lung, The New York Daily News said. The nodule, at that time, was two-centimeters. Two years later, Wilkinson has metastasized lung cancer and has been given under one year to live, said The News.
At Kings County Hospital, Laverne underwent an EKG and a chest X-ray and was sent home with a clean bill of health and orders to take Motrin for her pain. Treated by a first-year resident, Dr. James Willis, Wilkinson was told her tests were normal. In fact, Willis wrote on her chart, “You should take Motrin for pain, and follow up with your doctor,” according to The News.
In his written report, the radiologist recommended that Wilkinson undergo a follow-up X-ray in three months and, if “clinical concern warrants, a CT scan is suggested.” The radiologist’s recommendation was never given to Wilkinson at the hospital, at any of her two years of follow-up clinic appointment visits, or from her primary care clinic physicians at Kings County, said The News. Throughout all of the visits, Wilkinson consistently complained of suffering from a chronic cough.
By the time Wilkinson returned to the ER in mid-2012 complaining of shortness of breath and wheezing, another chest X-ray was taken and revealed that the nodule was cancerous, had doubled in size, and had invaded her left lung, The News explained. At this point, Wilkinson was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that metastasized to her liver, spine, and brain, significantly shortening her lifespan. In the two-year time in which Wilkinson’s cancer was spreading, Kings County doctors offered her cough medicines, inhalers, and steroids, blaming her symptoms on her asthma. “I was shocked. I was told I had six months to a year to live,” the former home health aide told The News.
Crying, she told The News that she is the mother to an only child, a 15-year-old daughter who is severely retarded and autistic. Sobbing, she said, “She is going to be left without a mother. What is going to happen to my little girl?”
Sadly, noted the Daily News, had her now-terminal and metastatic cancer been diagnosed in 2010, Wilkinson would likely have been cured; this, according to Dr. Gary Briefel, the attending physician on call when Wilkinson was being treated at the hospital last May. “I spoke to the patient about the fact that she had a chest X-ray in Feb 2010 while she was in the ED that showed a nodule that probably represented an earlier stage of what we now know is Squamous Cell Cancer,” Briefel wrote in Wilkinson’s chart. “I told her that apparently nobody saw the report, which suggested either repeating the X-ray or getting a CT scan. I told her that it was not clear whether earlier diagnosis would have led to a cure, since many lung cancers by the time they are seen on a CXR (chest X-ray) have already spread, but that it was possible that a surgical cure could have been achieved,” Briefel said. Wilkinson said he hugged her and apologized.
The News spoke to Briefel, who said he vividly remembered Wilkinson, but was unable to discuss the matter without hospital permission. He did tell The News that, “Everyone felt terrible about what has happened.” The City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees the Kings County Hospital, would not comment to The News.
Wilkinson’s attorney described the matter as “mortifying,” shocked that not one medical professional looked at her client’s radiology chart for over two years and that, during that time, Wilkinson’s Kings County clinic staff continually ordered all sorts of asthma medications, yet never ordered another chest X-ray or pulmonary-function test. “Her life could have been saved,” the attorney told The News.
Readers of this blog may remember the shocking case of Esmin Green, the woman who died at Kings County Hospital Center (KCHC) June 19 after writhing on the floor of its psychiatric emergency ward for a full hour. Green died due to blood clots caused by a long period of physical inactivity. Surveillance footage revealed that Green, 49, appeared to be ignored and unattended while hospital workers and other patients in the room, did nothing. Green was in the KCHC psychiatric ward waiting area for over 24 hours before she began convulsing before she collapsed and died. In addition to staff repeatedly ignoring Green, patient records were falsified; six staff were ultimately fired and a Department of Justice investigation was initiated.
Alan Aviles, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said, at the time, “We failed Esmin Green and believe her family deserves fair and just compensation.”