VA Medical Center Cancer Misdiagnosis Results In $1.95M Award For Vietnam Veteran

A U.S. Marine veteran has been awarded $1.95 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed against the U.S. government, over a failure to diagnose cancer at the Buffalo VA Medical Center.

In 2013, Gerald Culhane went to his primary care doctor at the Veteran’s Affairs hospital complaining of a lump in his neck. However, according to a lawsuit he filed against in 2017, doctors at the Buffalo VA Medical Center failed to accurately diagnose the tumor as cancer.

According to allegations presented during a recent trial, Culhane returned to his VA doctor in April 2015, complaining about a rapid growth on the left side of his face. Following a a second scan, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, with the primary malignancy located in his left tonsil.

Culhane underwent 40 radiation treatments, and seven cycles of weekly intravenous chemotherapy, between the diagnosis and August 2015. However, the cancer returned, and he underwent an additional radical tonsillectomy and left modified neck dissection in January 2017.

The lawsuit alleged the VA medical system failed to provide Culhane adequate treatment by misinterpreting initial CT scans of the lump in his neck, and failed to properly follow up with Culhane, which may have led to faster diagnosis and treatment.

According to a recent report published by The Buffalo News, Culhane and his wife were awarded $1.95 million last week by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford, who determined the VA hospital failed to properly diagnose the neck tumor, an abnormal enlargement of his left cervical lymph node. She indicated the cancerous tumor should have been clearly visible to doctors in September 2013.

The VA hospital failure to diagnose the cancer delayed his treatment by 20 months, the judge ruled, departing from standards of care. An expert witness who testified on Culhane’s behalf said the missed diagnosis in September 2013, and the subsequent delay in treatment, led to the return of Culhane’s cancer in 2017. The expert pointed to the fact that the cancerous cells doubled in number between the September 2013 visit and the April 2015 diagnosis, and Judge Wolford agreed.

However, Judge Wolford ruled against Culhane in a separate medical malpractice claim which alleged the center also failed to diagnose a skin lesion which turned out to be malignant melanoma on his right temple. She determined that at the time the hospital’s dermatology clinic examined the lesion in April 2014, it was still benign.

Another dermatologist diagnosed Culhane with malignant melanoma in early 2015.

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