Sharon Fisher, mastectomy mix-up victim, pleased with barcode changes

A Halifax-area woman who had an unnecessary mastectomy after her test results were mixed up with another patient's last year says she’s pleased the health authority has designed a new system to prevent future errors.

Halifax-area hospital authority apologizes for 2 separate mistakes

Sharon Fisher is the Halifax-area woman who got a mastectomy last year following a wrong diagnosis of breast cancer. (CBC)

A Halifax-area woman who had an unnecessary mastectomy after her test results were swapped last year says she’s still devastated but is pleased the health authority has designed a new system to prevent future errors.

Sharon Fisher was told she had breast cancer and opted to have her breast removed.  A few months later she was told her lab results were mixed up with another patient’s in the Capital Health authority. She didn't have cancer and didn’t have to lose her breast.

The reminder haunts Fisher every time she gets dressed.

“You never get used to it. I still don’t look in the mirror and I won’t… If I don’t focus on what happened, I’m OK,” Fisher told CBC.

The other patient who needed surgery was not scheduled for the procedure until after the mistake was caught.

In a second separate case, Capital Health admitted tissue samples were switched before a pathology analysis. One patient had an unnecessary diagnostic biopsy and the other patient’s follow up was delayed.

The mistakes were later detected in laboratories.

Capital Health has made big changes to its pathology lab since that mistake in February of 2013.

“This affected everyone working in the lab because that created anxiety for everybody. But I think we hopefully have learned from that event,” said Laurette Geldenhuys, service chief and division head of anatomical pathology at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

'They can relax'

The changes arrived in January in the form of a $450,000 computer system.

The computer generates barcodes to match patients' paperwork and the samples themselves. At every stage, the codes ensure the samples, from moles to bowel tissue, are always linked to the right patient.

Computers talk to each other every step of the way.

“We all feel really excited that barcoding is in place now. Because this gives us some reassurance that something like that is less likely to occur,” said Geldenhuys.

For Fisher, it's bittersweet relief.

I’m just happy something positive came out of something so negative.- Sharon Fisher

“That’s terrific. You could feel safer now….As devastating as it was, it’s good to know something good happens, that this won’t happen to anybody else. It shouldn’t,” said Fisher.

“I’m just happy something positive came out of something so negative. That’s a big thing for me. That it was possible to correct something that was flawed in the beginning.”

She said she often thinks about other patients. Fisher says her friends have been anxious about their test results since her story made headlines.

“It's nice to know they can relax too.”

Despite the changes Fisher says she’s still nervous about returning to the hospital, especially for surgery.

“I always trusted it.  I never, ever questioned it. So when this happened it was shocking because I always felt safe,” she said.

Fisher's lawyer, Ray Wagner, says there's no agreement with Capital Health about financial compensation for the mastectomy error. He says discussions are underway.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.