Alberta woman dies from chemotherapy overdose

The Alberta Cancer Board has apologized to the family of a cancer patient who died after an overdose of chemotherapy.

The Alberta Cancer Board has apologizedto the family of a cancer patient who died after an overdose of chemotherapy.

Dr. Tony Fieldstoldanews conferenceThursday that the woman's death last week is "a most unfortunate incident." She died from internal bleeding and multiple organ failure.

"This is one of our worst nightmares," said Fields, the cancer board's vice-president of medical affairs and community oncology. "This was a young woman in her forties. A wife, a sister, a mother."

The woman was sent home July 31 with chemotherapy medication froma clinic at Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute. The automatic pump administering the drugs wasprogrammed incorrectlyand delivered the medication over four hours rather than four days.

Experienced, highly trained staff

Fields told reporters the two nurses involved are very experienced and highly trained and have been devastated by the incident. He added there is no indication of negligence.

"These were not people who were cutting corners," he said.

A funeral for the woman was held Thursday, but her family had requested that her identity not be revealed.

"They understood this was a mistake, it was an accident," said Fields, adding that the nurses involved met with the family and apologized.

The family and the cancer board are concerned thetragicerror might cause other cancer patients to withdraw from chemotherapy treatments, he said.

Changes already made

Officials already havemade changes in how automatic drug pumps are used in the future.

Fields said patients will remain in hospital for at least an hour before they're sent home and the dose, which had been double-checked by the two nurses involved, will be triple-checked.

An external investigation by the Institute of Safe Medical Practices will be conducted. Fields said it will beat least two months beforeresults are released.

The mother of three died Aug. 22 after nearly three weeks at the University of Alberta Hospital. She had returned to the cancer facility several days after the overdose and was immediately informed of the error, he said.

Staffing levels not a factor

Fields said the woman's death was not linked in any way to the funding and staffing pressures faced by health-care facilities in Alberta.

Alberta Health Minister Iris Evans said changes are constantly made as health care advances.

"We keep working to prevent accidents," she said. "In a time of high technology and very complicated drugs and treatments, it's extremely important."

Liberal health critic Laurie Blakeman agrees that the incident doesn't appear to be a case of overworked staff spending too little time with a patient.

With files from the Canadian Press