Nfld. & Labrador

Eastern Health responds to mastectomy lawsuit

Nine women are suing Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority because their breasts were removed by mistake following inaccurate cancer tests.

Women given surgeries they didn't need

Myrtle Lewis is one of nine women whose breasts were removed after inaccurate cancer tests. (CBC )

Nine women are suing Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority because their breasts were removed by mistake following inaccurate cancer tests.

"I had a double mastectomy done which I shouldn't have had done," said Myrtle Lewis, who lives in Roddickton on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.

St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie wants access to tissue samples for the patients he represents. (CBC)

She learned six years ago that the double mastectomy she had undergone in 1999 — after she was told she had cancer in both breasts — had been unnecessary.

She said her doctor told her testing mistakes had missed that she had had just pre-cancerous cells.

"The good news, he said, is you're not going to die of breast cancer because you didn't have it," Lewis, who also underwent six months of chemotherapy, told CBC News.

Lewis and eight other women whose breasts were unnecessarily removed because of flawed testing have so far received no compensation.

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St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie, who has filed a lawsuit against Eastern Health, said the authority is refusing to send the women's medical records to an expert for an examination.

"It does make one wonder whether Eastern Health has truly learned some of the lessons of the Cameron inquiry and of the class action and of the whole scandal," said Crosbie, referring to a judicial inquiry that examined how hundreds of women had been given botched results for hormone receptor tests. Crosbie led a class action suit that resulted in a $17.5-million settlement in 2010.

Pathologist welcome to visit: CEO 

Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski said the authority has no trouble sharing medical records, but will not part with the actual tissue samples in each case.

Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski says the authority will not allow the samples to be sent to an external consultant because there are no duplicates. (Mark Quinn/CBC )

"It is the only physical piece of evidence," Kaminski told CBC News Wednesday.

"If we had known that we were going to be needing two samples, we could have taken extra evidence" years ago, she said.

Instead, Eastern Health will welcome Crosbie's Halifax-based consulting pathologist to visit the authority's labs in St. John's.

Kaminski added that the authority would like to resolve the complaints soon.

"Something happened to them that should not have happened," she said.

Lewis said she is anxious about the case.

"They [said] they're afraid they're going to be damaged," Lewis said. "But they wasn't too concerned about the damage that was done to us."

Wednesday morning, Crosbie told CBC News that he isn't satisfied with Kaminski's response either.

"It is driving up the cost to find out if you have a case by a factor of 10," Crosbie said.

"Now instead of paying the doctor for an hour to look at the slide, you have to pay the doctor 10 hours to come to St. John's and look at the slide and tell you if there was negligence. That's a barrier to access to justice," Crosbie said.

He said other health care facilities, including Mount Sinai, in Toronto, don't have similar policies.

Crosbie added that Eastern Health did send slides out of the province to Mount Sinai when hormone receptor tests were being reviewed more than five years ago.

With files from Doug Greer