Tissue samples misdiagnosed leading to cancer fight, suit alleges

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 26, 2008

PARKERSBURG – A Pleasants County woman has filed suit against a Wood County hospital and a New York physician, alleging they failed to timely diagnosis tissue samples from her scalp as cancerous.

On Aug. 26, Barbara Lauer of St. Marys filed suit against Dr. M. Akhtar Cheema and St. Joseph's Healthcare System in Wood Circuit Court. St. Joseph's Healthcare System is a Houston, Texas-based limited partnership that does business as St. Joseph's Hospital in Parkersburg.

In her complaint and suit, filed with the assistance of David A. Jividen, Jr. with the Jividen Law Offices in Wheeling, Lauer alleges Cheema, a pathologist, misdiagnosed a sample of her scalp following removal of a mole or lesion in 2005. The misdiagnosis has resulted in Lauer now fighting a battle against cancer.

According to court records, Lauer detected the mole/lesion in July 2005. After examining her on Aug. 1, Lauer's family physician, Dr. Michael Moses, referred Lauer to Dr. John Kevin Koch to have the mole/lesion removed.

Though records are unclear if the surgery was inpatient our outpatient, it was successfully done on Aug. 29. Nevertheless, records show Koch sent a specimen of the mole/lesion to St. Joseph's pathology department for analysis.

The analysis was done conducted by Cheema who determined she "required no further medical treatment."

However, Lauer alleges nearly a year later the mole/lesion returned. Again, following a surgery by Koch, a specimen was sent to Cheema for analysis.

According to court records, Cheema's determined the second sample to be a malignant melanoma. However, specimens from both the first and second surgeries were sent to Cornell University for further analysis were both came back positive for malignant melanoma.

Following the results from Cornell, records show Lauer was scheduled for additional treatment including a third surgery. On Aug. 29, 2006 – a year to the day of her first surgery – along with a wide excision of her scalp where the mole/lesion first appeared and a lymph node dissection, Lauer had a full-body CT scan taken to determine if the cancer had spread to other areas of her body.

Records show the cancer apparently spread as she was referred to Dr. Mukund Shah who prescribed for her Interferon treatment. When she could not tolerate the treatment, Lauer underwent a fourth surgery, this time for removal of lymph nodes from her neck.

Though no date is specified in court records, Dr. Modi did the lymph node removal.

As a result of both Cheema's and St. Joseph's negligence, Lauer alleges she now suffers a "permanent and deadly injury." That injury has led to suffer "sever physical pain, substantial mental and emotional anguish, fear, chagrin, humiliation, embarrassment and diminishment in her ability to fully function, enjoy life and fully live her life into the future."

She is seeking unspecified damages.

On Nov. 3, Cheema, who now works at the Brooklyn Hospital Center's Department of Pathology in Brooklyn, N.Y., filed his reply to Lauer's suit. In his reply, filed with the assistance of William F. Foster II and Stewart E. Altmeyer with the Foster Law Firm in Charleston, Cheema denied the allegations saying the "damages claimed by the Plaintiff may be the result of an incident or incidents, not under the direction or control of this Defendant, nor for which this Defendant would be responsible."

Also, Cheema asserted a defense under the Medical and Professional Liability Act for Lauer's lack of the requisite pre-suit notification and accompanying certificate of merit. Because of that, Cheema said he "reserves the right to amend this Answer pending additional discovery in this matter."

The case has been assigned to Judge Jeffrey B. Reed.

Wood Circuit Court Case No. 08-C-508

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