NEWS

Woman settles lawsuit over mastectomy done after mistaken cancer diagnosis

01/12/2012 04:28 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A woman whose healthy breast was removed in the mistaken belief it was cancerous has settled her lawsuit against the hospital and doctors who operated on her.

Laurie Johnston, of Leamington, Ont., was seeking $2.2 million in damages amid several investigations into how she and at least one other woman underwent surgeries they did not need.

Her lawyer, Barbara MacFarlane, said Thursday that the lawsuit had been settled, but could not disclose any of the details.

Johnston was glad the situation had been resolved, she said, and looked forward to moving on with her life.

The cases, MacFarlane added, also prompted some positive changes in the overall system.

"I'm certainly happy with the changes that seem to have occurred as a result of this case — the provincial investigation that happened, the legislative changes that occurred," MacFarlane said.

"Overall, we're seeing a better public awareness and hopefully better public safety."

Johnston's lawsuit had named her surgeon, Dr. Barbara Heartwell, and pathologist Dr. Olive Williams, as well as Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont., where the surgery took place, and the Leamington District Memorial Hospital.

"One of the silver linings, even in difficult cases, is that it can lead to reviews and looks into how we can make patient care better and safer," said Steve Erwin, a spokesman for Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital.

"Sometimes in situations where a patient concern is raised there's an opportunity for learning."

The suit had sought $1 million in general and special damages for her physical and emotional distress, along with punitive and aggravated damages of another $1 million. Her two daughters and sister were also seeking another $220,000 in damages.

It alleged Johnston had her left breast and six lymph nodes removed based on Heartwell's negligent cancer diagnosis.

It also claimed that Williams' pathology report, which concluded she did not have cancer, was confusing and contributed to the misdiagnosis.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been proven in court.

In launching her lawsuit last year, Johnston spoke about the emotional toll the unnecessary surgery had taken on her and said she had become withdrawn and unable to work.

Johnston's case, and that of Janice Laporte, whose healthy breast was removed by Heartwell at the same hospital in September 2001, prompted a series of investigations.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario launched investigations into Heartwell and Williams, but it did not refer Heartwell's matter to its discipline committee.

Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital restored full privileges to Heartwell, but it suspended Williams last year and she has since resigned.

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