Cancer

Kings County Hospital Mistake Leaves Laverne Wilkinson with 6 Months to Live

A sudden bout of chest pain prompted single mother Laverne Wilkinson to rush to the hospital in February of 2010. She was relieved to be given a clean bill of health, but little did she know that this was the beginning of an illness that would end up killing her. 

When Wilkinson went to Kings County Hospital, she thought she was having a heart attack. Doctors ordered an EKG and a chest X-ray. 

According to NY Daily News, first-year resident Dr. James Willis said her tests were normal, and that she should take Motrin for the pain and follow up with her doctor. 

Willis was wrong. The chest X-ray had an abnormality, showing a suspicious 2-centimeter nodule in her right lung. A radiologist recommended in a written report that she have a followup X-ray in three months, and if the nodule persists, a CT scan should be ordered. 

However, Wilkinson was not given this information. She wasn't given it in 2010 when she received the X-ray, and she wasn't given it during two years of other appointments, where she complained of a cough. 

In the spring of 2012, Wilkinson's cough was getting more severe. She had wheezing and shortness of breath, prompting her to return to the ER. This time, a second X-ray revealed a cancerous nodule that had doubled in size and spread to her other lung. 

Wilkinson was finally given a diagnosis: stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her liver, spine, and brain. 

The once 2-centimeter tumor had taken over Wilkinson's body in the two years she went undiagnosed. Kings County doctors believed she had asthma and gave her cough medicines, inhalers, and steroids, but failed to uncover the real reason for her lung issues. 

"I was shocked. I was told I had six months to a year to live," Wilkinson said. 

She cried thinking about leaving her only child, a severely retarded and autistic 15-year-old girl. "She is going to be left without a mother. What is going to happen to my little girl?" 

Wilkinson was even more shocked to learn that had she been properly diagnosed in the very beginning, she may have had a chance to live. 

Dr. Gary Briefel, the physician who broke the news to Wilkinson about her diagnosis, said it was possible that surgical care in the beginning could have led to a cure. 

Briefel could not comment on the matter, as he was not able to speak about it without the hospital's permission. He did say that "everyone felt terrible about what has happened."

A spokeswoman for the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation declined to comment. 

Judith Donnel, Wilkinson's attorney, said it's "mortifying."

"No one looked at the radiology report for more than two years. And over those same two years, her primary care doctors at Kings County clinics ordered all these drugs that were breathing-related but never ordered another chest X-ray or pulmonary-function test. Her life could have been saved."

A Notice of Claim has been filed by Donnel, a first step in a potential lawsuit against the city. A hearing is scheduled for January 25. 

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