Philadelphia VA Hospital Malpractice Claim Filed Over Cancer Clinic Problems

A Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces officer has presented a claim against the federal government in connection with botched cancer treatments performed by what has been referred to as a “rogue” cancer unit at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

Barry Lackro, 59, is one of nearly 100 veterans that received substandard treatment from a Veteran Affairs unit that performed brachytherapy treatment on prostate cancer patients, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The unit is now under investigation after evidence of massive medical malpractice was uncovered with the treatment, which involves implanting radioactive metal seeds into the prostate to fight cancer.

For Lackro, the brachytherapy problems were just one incident in a string of VA treatment mishaps and fumbles that led from an early diagnosis of prostate cancer, which he says should have been treatable, to a condition that may be terminal.

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The cancer treatment problems at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center came to light last month, after investigators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) discovered that the cancer unit mishandled 92 out of 116 brachytherapy treatments. Most of the treatments were done by Dr. Gary D. Kao, with mistakes ranging from incorrect doses of radiation to radioactive implants being inserted into the wrong organs, causing permanent damage.

The unit appears to have had no peer review or administrative oversight, is accused of having rewritten surgical plans to cover up failed procedures, and continued to perform radiation surgeries even after a machine needed to monitor the radiation in patients broke down and was not replaced.

Earlier this week, Dr. Kao testified at a congressional hearing held at the medical center. Kao says he never falsified any reports or covered up any of the unit’s activities. He also characterized brachytherapy as an “evolving field.”

Lackro’s own experience with the unit led to one radioactive implant ending up in his bladder and three coming out in blood clots. He also began suffering from blood and urine in his stools, constipation and rectal pain, which doctors later diagnosed as radiation irritation to the rectum and bladder.

However, Lackro’s problems with the VA did not begin with the brachytherapy treatment. In October, 2004, shortly after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, VA doctors tried to remove his prostate despite Lackro’s warnings that he had two hernia meshes inserted previously. After six and a half hours on the operating table, VA doctors determined that removal of Lackro’s prostate was not a viable treatment.

Lackro’s claim against the VA comes amidst a string of high-profile Veterans Affairs controversies this year involving the quality of medical care provided. Just before the Philadelphia VA cancer clinic issues were publicly disclosed, a congressional hearing was held to look into colonoscopy contamination problems at several VA facilities that exposed thousands of patients to HIV, hepatitis and other blood borne diseases. It has been discovered that unsanitary and improperly used endoscopic equipment exposed veterans to the bodily fluids of other patients over a period of several years at some facilities.

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