Windsor, Ont., hospital probing second apparent case of mistaken mastectomy
A second case of a woman undergoing an unnecessary mastectomy in Windsor, Ont., has seen the doctor who performed both operations voluntarily stop performing surgeries pending a hospital investigation.
While Janice Laporte said Wednesday she hoped coming forward about her 2001 mastectomy ordeal would mean better checks and balances in the health-care system, Ontario’s health minister said a surgical checklist announced last fall would have prevented the latest incident.
Laporte came forward publicly after hearing of another woman who learned she didn’t have cancer only after her breast was removed by the same surgeon in November 2009.
That case, involving Laurie Johnston of Leamington, Ont., gained public attention last week after the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor announced it had started an internal investigation into what went wrong.
Dr. Barbara Heartwell has voluntarily stopped performing surgeries pending the results of the probe, the hospital said late Tuesday.
Heartwell’s withdrawal from surgery is in “the best interest of our patients,” said the hospital’s interim chief of staff, Dr. Kevin Tracey, in a statement.
A pre-surgery safety checklist that is in the process of being implemented provincewide would have made the difference in Johnston’s case, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday.
“One of those items on the checklist before the anesthetic is given is a review of the biopsy,” Matthews said.
“Implementation of that checklist would have prevented this terrible error.”
The checklist will be standard practice in operating rooms provincewide by April, Matthews said, though she could not say why that would take five months as the measure was announced in September.
Heartwell admits she misread the results of a needle biopsy that found Johnston did not have cancer, said Dr. Art Kidd, who was the hospital’s chief of staff at the time.
Laporte said from her home in Sarnia, Ont., that her breast was removed in September 2001 but that a week after her surgery, she was told by Heartwell that she didn’t have cancer.
It was very disturbing to hear Johnston’s story because it was similar to her own, she said.
“Then when I heard the Hotel Dieu hospital officials on TV saying that this was a human error and as far as they’re concerned in 28 years Dr. Heartwell has never made another mistake, that’s when I said OK wait a minute here,” said Laporte.
She questions how the hospital didn’t know about her case. Calls to the hospital for comment were not immediately returned.
Laporte filed a lawsuit over her case in 2002. She can’t discuss the proceedings because of a confidentiality clause but the court case has ended, she said.
However in the statement of claim she filed Laporte alleged Heartwell performed “dramatic, disfiguring and invasive surgery” on her without informing her the pathologists who reviewed her tissue sample were seeking an outside opinion.
Heartwell’s statement of defence said Laporte was given a copy of the pathology report — which included the statement about an outside opinion — and that Laporte chose to have a mastectomy “after being explained all of the risks, benefits and possible complications of the various treatment options.”
The suit was settled before the allegations could be tested in court.