Sunday, November 7, 2010

Another St.Catharines health-care horror story

The St.Catharines Standard published a frightening health care story which unfolded here in Niagara about a patient who was not notified for several months about her terminal prognosis.

Grant Lafleche wrote in 'It was just shock and horror' (Nov.1, 2010):

"It was the most terrifying sentence Nadia Andrusyszyn-Heto ever heard. But then a death sentence is rarely welcome news.

"How is your after care going?" the voice on the phone said.

Those two words said it all. After care. They could mean only one thing. All those months of feeling healthy were just a lie. She wasn't healthy. Not even close. Andrusyszyn-Heto's body was being ruined from the inside out.

After care. It meant she had cancer, and she'd had it for the better part of a year. A cancer no one told her about.

"I remember saying, 'After care? What are you on about?' Andrusyszyn-Heto says today in her thick British accent. "I knew what it meant. It was about that lung scan I had the year before. It was just shock and horror. Shock and horror."

Today, the retired St. Catharines woman is living with a prognosis that says she has months to live. The cancer is everywhere in her lungs and has spread to her brain. She hasn't been sickened by the side-effects of radiation or chemotherapy treatments - the result of being descended from hardy Ukrainian stock, she says - and swears she will fight for as long as she can.

"The doctor says months, not years. Well, there are 12 months in a year. Twenty-four in two years," she says. "I'm not going to sit about feeling sorry for myself or cry in my tea. I am getting on with life. You have to hang onto hope and stay positive, and that's what I am doing."

Still, the questions linger. What if she had been told earlier? What if the results of her tests had reached her when they were supposed to, when the cancer was just a small spot on one lung?

"They say the best option is to get it (the diagnosis) early," says Andrusyszyn-Heto's husband, Mike Heto. "They say now it's incurable and all they can do is control it. But then it might have been different."

It started when Andrusyszyn- Heto, 52, had a sore throat and persistent cough. Since she and Heto moved to Canada from England to be closer to family in 2007, the couple had been plagued by nose and throat issues. Canada is just so much drier than their homeland, they say.

But in June 2009, Andrusyszyn- Heto's cough was different. It came with blood.

"Not a lot of blood, mind you, but enough to concern me," says Andrusyszyn-Heto, a lifelong smoker who typically doesn't go to a doctor unless things seem really out of the ordinary.

The doctor at the St. Catharines walk-in clinic she visited thought it might be an infection and gave her a course of antibiotics. But the bloody cough returned within a few weeks, so Andrusyszyn-Heto was sent for X-rays of her chest.

"There was a shadow on my right lung," she says.

By late July 2009, Andrusyszyn- Heto was at St. Catharines General Hospital for a CT scan of her chest. She was told what every patient is told when getting a medical test done, from blood work to brain scans - if something is wrong, you'll get a phone call.

She says no call ever came. Andrusyszyn-Heto's cough didn't return and life moved along like normal for her and her husband. She felt fine. Whatever that shadow on the X-ray was must not have been serious.

Then came that call in March 2010.

"How is your after care going?" the employee from the walk-in clinic asked.

"After care? What are you on about?" Andrusyszyn-Heto replied.

The voice on the phone fell silent and the truth was apparent. Andrusyszyn-Heto had lung cancer and no one had called to tell her.

Through April and May, Andrusyszyn-Heto went through a battery of tests that confirmed she had lung cancer that had spread to both lungs and brain. Her prognosis was terminal.

Treatments have since shrunk the tumour in her brain, and the cancer in her lungs hasn't grown or spread. She feels strong and healthy and is determined to live her life as she always has.

"It does you no good to sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I am going to get on with my life for as long as I can. No doctor is going to tell me when it's time to check out. I'll know when that time has come, when I've had enough," she says. "But for now, I am living as I always have."

Why she never received that critical call remained a sore spot for months. After receiving a complaint from her, the Niagara Health System launched an internal investigation that found proper protocol had been followed - the results of the CT scan were sent by mail to the doctor who ordered them, who has the responsibility to inform the patient.

The NHS confirmed this is how its process works, although officials would not discuss Andrusyszyn-Heto's case, citing privacy regulations.

Andrusyszyn-Heto even consulted a lawyer and briefly considered legal action against those she says are responsible for failing to inform her. She has since changed her mind. She did not want to name the clinic or the doctor. For that reason, The Standard was unable to contact them for comment.

"The lawyer said it would take years and years for it to reach a conclusion. Years I might not have," she says. "We have a case. We would probably win. But what good will that do me? A few thousand dollars? I might not be here to collect it."

Instead, Andrusyszyn-Heto has focused on joining cancer research fundraising causes and, more importantly, pressing the NHS to improve its process.

Last week, Andrusyszyn-Heto received a letter from the NHS telling her the process has changed. Critical test results will be faxed to the ordering physician and the NHS will follow up to ensure the doctor received them.

The NHS confirmed the change in process.

The changes have come too late for Andrusyszyn-Heto, but she says she can take some comfort that no one else's test results will slip through the cracks.

"This cannot happen again. It cannot happen to anyone else," she says. "That's the important thing."

Once again, where does one start in this unfortunate tale? How about the fact that until now, this all fell under "proper protocol", and only now has been changed? And yes, perhaps not getting tangled up in a long court battle is the thing to do, but on the other hand, why shouldn't an estate be able to carry on a court case as long as necessary to obtain justice in this case?
Seems that no one's to blame for anything here.
This all happened under the auspices of Dalton McGuinty's Liberal-run health care monopoly - yet there was no mention of, or comment from, any Liberal politician in regards to this issue.
And why should there be, right: it's not as if Jim Bradley has - or ever had - anything to do with enforcing Ontario's health care monopoly!
A loud-mouthed sanctimonious Jim Bradley used to (supposedly...) stand up for patients - when it was convenient for him...
Now, Jim Bradley is suddenly very quiet about these outrages occurring in his Liberal health care monopoly, right in his own riding.
It's got nothin' to do with Jim!!


Ed said...

All the doctors and nurses are unionized and don't give a damn.

R.Bobak said...

Ontario's doctors aren't unionized, their umbrella group is the OMA, which isn't a 'union' but can act like one. As far as other medical staff, the union mentality unfortunately permeates many aspects of Ontario's health care monopoly. The thing is that no one seems to really be held responsible when these incidents happen.

R.Bobak said...

Further to this subject of Ontario doctors and unions was this interesting letter, titled "Doctors forced to join a 'union'", from Dr.Patrick Little (National Post, Mar.4, 2011):

"Re: Why Wisconsin Matters, editorial reprinted from the Wall Street Journal, March 2.

Forced union membership and forced union dues payments are a fact of life for Ontario physicians. Under provincial legislation, doctors are compelled to pay annual dues to the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). If a physician does not pay the dues voluntarily, the government removes the dues from any of that physicians' earnings and sends the funds to the OMA. This $1,850 deduction takes place even if the physician writes to both the government and the OMA, explaining that he does not want to be represented by the OMA and has no wish to fund any of their activities.

The right not to associate is infringed and, at the same time, physicians have none of the protections that labour law gives union members. For example, there is no membership vote for the position of OMA president."