A former master warrant officer with the Canadian Armed Forces says she developed PTSD and had to leave the military after having her kidney removed as a result of being wrongly diagnosed with cancer.
She said she was told at the time that the mistake was no one’s fault and that “medicine is not an exact science.”
Sharon Marson, who now lives in New Brunswick, attempted to sue the now-retired Ottawa urologist who diagnosed and treated her, and The Ottawa Hospital. Affidavits were filed and both sides were cross-examined in them, but her lawsuit alleging medical negligence was dismissed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice earlier this year because she waited too long to pursue it.
Marson’s surgery was in August 2000. For most lawsuits, the claim must be issued within two years. Marson pursued the lawsuit in 2015.
She said a medical report commissioned by Veterans Affairs Canada concluded in 2014 that “I have been the victim of medical malpractice.” Until then, she said, she was not aware there had been malpractice.
The case began when Marson underwent a routine medical exam in early 2000 as a condition of her service in the armed forces. Tests done after the exam found a “shadow” on her right kidney and she was referred to urologist Dr. Carl Leahy.
Medicine is not an exact science
He ordered a series of tests. Based on those, he concluded she had cancer in the right kidney and recommended that the kidney and her ureter be surgically removed, to which she agreed.
In August 2000, during a post-op consultation, Leahy told her the mass that had been diagnosed as cancer was, in fact, benign and that she had a kidney infection and scarring, not cancer.
“Following my nephrectomy, I was told that the pathology report, much to Dr. Leahy’s surprise, was not cancer. I had been misdiagnosed. I had had a kidney infection and scar tissue, for which I had had not one symptom,” she said in a court document.
According to court documents, Marson stated that after surgery she had been told by the doctor that tests had produced a “false positive result” for cancer and that “tests can be wrong, but this is not the result of any error of the technicians operating the lab equipment or conducting the tests but that this was the nature of the tests that were conducted.”
He added, “Medicine is not an exact science.”
At the time, she said, several people encouraged her to launch a lawsuit, but she declined.
It was only when she was applying for a disability pension, she said, that she read the entire medical file and was struck by an “inconsistency” between what the doctor told her and her husband after the surgery and what the records said.
At the heart of her concern was a cytopathology test conducted prior to surgery, which was negative for cancer. Cytopathology testing examines cells from various sites in the body and is sometimes used for cancer screening. Marson argued that further testing should have been done, in light of that result, before her kidney was removed.
“He never explained to me that he should have conducted further tests and that my condition may have been cured alternatively and he maintained that the kidney and ureter required removal in order to save my life.”
In court testimony, Leahy said all the test results had been disclosed to Marson prior to the surgery. He also said that a negative cytopathology report did not rule out cancer and was not significant to his diagnosis.
Marson, meanwhile, who had been working as a supply technician, said she left the armed forces as a result of the surgery and later suffered from depression and PTSD.
When she underwent a medical exam as part of her release from the military later in 2000, she talked about the misdiagnoses as part of her reason.
“I now know that, at all material times, I have suffered from and continue to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and severe depression as a result of the treatment.” It was only after receiving treatment for them that she was capable of commencing legal action, she said, which is why she waited more than 15 years after the surgery to commence legal proceedings.
“I was unable to make important decisions at that time due to my depressed state.”
Both Marson and the lawyer representing Leahy declined to comment. The Ottawa Hospital released this statement: “The Court was clear in its decision in this case. The hospital cannot speak on behalf of other parties.”