New Brunswick

Woman sues 4 Campbellton doctors for malpractice

A Campbellton-area woman is suing a surgeon and three radiologists for allegedly failing to diagnose her breast cancer in time to avoid major surgery.

Alice Aube had a radical right-breast mastectomy almost 2 years after she first went to a radiologist

A file photo of a mammogram screen.

A Campbellton-area woman is suing a surgeon and three radiologists for allegedly failing to diagnose her breast cancer in time to avoid major surgery.

According to court documents, Alice Aube had a radical right-breast mastectomy almost exactly two years after she first went to a radiologist.

In the medical malpractice civil suit, Aube names surgeon Dr. Gabor Fuzesi and diagnostic radiologists Dr. Harjeet Bajwa, Dr. Allister McGowan and Dr. Arifa Sadaf.

She alleges they all neglected their duty, causing her "permanent and significant injuries." All four worked at the Campbellton Regional Hospital at the time.

The doctors have denied all allegations of malpractice, which have not been tested in court. 

Biopsy deemed unnecessary

According to her claim, she had an ultrasound of her right breast in 2013 by Bajwa, where abnormalities were found. His report notes that it could be a benign mass. He recommended a four-month followup to "assess for any change in size or appearance."

He also suggested a fine needle biopsy, depending on the "overall clinical scenario."

In February 2014, Aube went to Fuzesi after being referred by her family doctor. She said her right nipple was slightly inverted, and had been for about two to three months. After an examination, Fuzesi said a biopsy was unnecessary. He booked a followup ultrasound for three months later. 

He also noted in his report that Aube's mother's cousin had breast cancer.

In his statement of defence, Fuzesi said he saw a "very slight retraction" of the nipple that can only be seen on close examination, and he felt no signs of cancer when he physically examined Aube.

In May 2014, Aube had an ultrasound performed by McGowan. After comparing it to the previous ultrasound, McGowan found a very slight increase in size of the mass previously detected and recommended a two-month followup ultrasound.

Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, says malpractice suits are rare, and most of them are settled out of court. (CBC)

In October 2014, Aube had another ultrasound by Sadaf. There was no change in size, and he also suspected a benign lesion. Aube was booked for a followup ultrasound in six months.

Sadaf noted the ultrasound didn't explain the nipple retraction and recommended a surgical referral for it.

In May 2015, Aube had another ultrasound by McGowan. It revealed a small cyst in the right breast. The "minimal change" between this ultrasound and the previous one was blamed on variations in measuring. The lesion originally found two years earlier had grown by 0.01 centimetres. The radiologist recommended more followups.

By then, Aube requested a referral from Fusezi for a plastic surgeon to see what could be done about her inverted nipple. In September 2015, the plastic surgeon recommended a mammogram, which was done on Nov. 3 that year. The mammogram found a 2.6-centimetre lesion in the right breast that looked malignant.  

It's very very difficult to sue a physician unless you've already got quite a bit of money.- Dr. Ed Schollenberg, College of Physicians and Surgeons

On Nov. 17, 2015, two years after the first ultrasound found abnormalities, Aube had a biopsy that proved she had invasive cancer.

In December, she had a radical mastectomy of her right breast. She had metastatic carcinoma in three of her six lymph nodes.

In her claim, Aube alleges Fuzesi was negligent and fell below the standard of care expected of a general surgeon practising in the breast cancer clinic at the Campbellton Regional Hospital.

She says he ignored warning signs and chose not to refer her for a fine needle biopsy. 

She alleged the three radiologists interpreted her ultrasound in a "hurried, rushed manner" and did not thoroughly investigate the whole right breast.

Statements of defence

All but Bajwa have submitted statements of defence. Those three doctors deny they were negligent.

They all admit they've seen Aube and they admit have a duty of care to uphold, but all say they've met that standard.

Chantal Thibodeau, the lawyer representing Sadaf, Fuzesi and McGowan, declined to comment Monday.

There is no specific compensation for Aube mentioned in the court documents. Her lawyer Tony Richardson declined to comment Monday.

'Rare' lawsuit

Dr. Ed Schollenberg, registrar at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick, said lawsuits like these are rare.

There are about 1,000 lawsuits in Canada every year against physicians, he said, and about 50 of these happen in New Brunswick. 

However, "most of them are abandoned before they get very far," he said.

Schollenberg said all physicians of Canada are represented by the Canadian Medical Protective Association. He said they foot the legal bill, and instead of always trying to settle like some companies in the United States, they will "spend $10,000 to avoid paying the patient $1,000."

"They feel that discourages lawsuits by being aggressive in defending [doctors]," he said. "So it's very very difficult to sue a physician unless you've already got quite a bit of money."

He said patients will often find that they can't afford to keep the matter going.

Delays in service

Aube first filed the claim in 2017 but wasn't able to serve Bajwa, who now lives in British Columbia. After she obtained  two extensions, one granted by Justice Arthur Doyle last week, Bajwa was added to the claim.

Bajwa's lawyer, Cathy Fawcett, told the court her client himself has cancer, and the treatment was taking a toll on his memory as well as his physical well-being. 

Doyle said if this case goes to trial, a judge will have to decide whether Bajwa's testimony can be relied on because of his treatment.

No upcoming court dates are scheduled.