A Windsor, Ont., surgeon who mistakenly removed a woman's breast believing it was cancerous, alleges her patient was not upset to discover the error — and even wanted her other breast removed just in case.
Dr. Barbara Heartwell has filed a statement of defence in Windsor in response to a lawsuit launched by her former patient Laurie Johnston, of Leamington, Ont.
Johnston is seeking $2.2 million in damages amid several investigations into how she and at least one other woman became surgical victims.
The lawsuit names Heartwell and pathologist Dr. Olive Williams as well as Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor where the surgery took place, and the Leamington District Memorial Hospital.
Heartwell's statement claims the surgeon was not negligent, though it acknowledges she misread the final diagnosis in a pathology report.
The other parties have filed notices of their intent to defend, but have not yet filed full statements of defence.
Surgeon says patient ignored advice
After the mastectomy, Johnston "was not upset about the mistake," Heartwell alleges in her statement of defence.
"Ms. Johnston expressed relief at learning that she did not have cancer. In fact, Ms. Johnston never expressed any concern or dissatisfaction with Dr. Heartwell's care," the statement says.
Johnston has a family history that predisposes her to breast cancer and a few months later she still believed she had breast cancer and wanted her other breast removed, Heartwell alleges.
"Dr. Heartwell denies that Ms. Johnston has suffered any damages or injuries for which she is responsible," Heartwell writes.
"In the alternative, Dr. Heartwell pleads that the damages and injuries claimed by Ms. Johnston are excessive, exaggerated and too remote."
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
Any damages or injuries Johnston has suffered were caused by pre-existing medical conditions or Johnston's "failure to follow the advice and recommendations of her health-care providers," Heartwell alleges.
Patient files response to surgeon
In a cross-claim, Heartwell is asking that her costs in this lawsuit be paid by Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital and Leamington District Memorial Hospital.
Johnston filed a reply to Heartwell's allegations, in which she denies that she was interested in removal of her breasts for preventive purposes, and denies not being upset with the "unnecessary removal" of her breast.
Johnston has said her physical and emotional state has left her unable to work at the factory job she held.
Johnston's case, and that of Janice Laporte, whose healthy breast was removed by Heartwell at the same hospital in September 2001, have prompted a series of investigations.
Laporte filed a now concluded lawsuit in 2002. She cannot discuss the case because of a confidentiality clause.
The Ontario government, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital have all launched investigations into pathology or Heartwell.
Williams is also under investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
Hôtel-Dieu suspended Williams's privileges in January. Heartwell originally voluntarily stopped performing surgeries after the two cases came to light, but the hospital reinstated her privileges less than a month later.