Cancer patient says hospital lost tissue specimens, no way to get more

Cancer patient says hospital lost tissue specimens, no way to get more

CHARLOTTE — Julia Council said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February, had chemotherapy and went to Novant Health for surgery.

She said doctors removed a lump and multiple lymph nodes and planned to test them to see if her treatment was working. They were supposed to tell her what to do next.

“My surgeon actually called me first, and he apologized,” Council said.

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He said he’s never heard of this happening, but that my specimens were lost," she told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke.

Council told Stoogenke the doctors can’t operate again and get more specimens because they removed all of them the first time like they were supposed to.

“I’m like, ‘So now what do we do?’ Because we don’t know anything,” Council said. “We just don’t know which direction to go. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know what’s working, what’s not working, so now we’re just kind of shooting in the dark.”

She said she and her doctor decided to have her go through chemo again for six months, even though she may not need it. She said the therapy took a toll on her the first time.

“I developed a lot of bone pain. I [was] hurting, so I felt like I was barely functioning,” Council said.

Novant sent her a letter acknowledging “the specimens were misplaced and have not been found.” The letter stated the hospital did an “exhaustive search” but couldn’t find them.

It blames an “error in communication,” saying: “It is very unfortunate that human errors occur, and we regret that this error affected you.”

“But even with that letter, it was, like, ‘Yeah, we’re sorry this happened to you.’ That’s it,” she told Stoogenke. “It’s just, it’s draining. It really is draining, emotionally,” Council said. “And then to have all of this on top of everything.”

Novant Health told Stoogenke: “We are aware of this patient’s grievance and are working diligently to get the answers they need. Above all else, Novant Health is committed to providing each and every patient the safest, highest-quality care. Any issue or incident that jeopardizes that commitment receives our immediate and full attention. We are conducting an internal investigation, which includes an evaluation of our processes. While that investigation is ongoing, we can assure you its findings will be communicated directly with the patient and, if necessary, guide future best practices to ensure the best care for our patients.”

Stoogenke wanted to know how often this happens across the health care industry. He couldn’t find any recent studies, but two did catch his attention. One study found one case for every roughly 1,500 specimens. The other found more than four cases for every 1,000 specimens, but that included different kinds of errors, not just lost specimens.

There’s not much patients can do. They can sue the hospital, but it’s hard to win. And in the end, there is no way to bring a specimen back.

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