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Hawaiian Man Awarded $5.6 Million for Cancer Misdiagnosis

hospital doctorsA cancer misdiagnosis is costing Hawaii’s Straub Hospital $5.6 million dollars. Plaintiff Jeff Kim sued the hospital in a malpractice claim after doctors told the once active 43-year old that he didn’t have cancer, when in fact a tumor was slowly growing in the back of his neck.  Kim says he was relieved to learn he was cancer free back in 2008, but when his symptoms persisted, a visit to an oral surgeon changed his whole outlook on life. The surgeon ordered an MRI, which showed a definitive tumor in Kim’s neck. At that point however, the cancer had progressed to Stage IV, seriously reducing his chances of long-term survival.

“You’re looking back and you’re going we could have caught this at the early stages and it would have been a one day in the hospital surgery and five weeks radiation and I would have been back to work,” Kim told Hawaii News Now after a jury returned the multi-million verdict.

Plaintiff wins lawsuit over cancer misdiagnosis

Kim’s attorneys argued that Straub Hospital doctors should be held liable, since they failed to order an MRI when the plaintiff presented with symptoms. During those crucial months after the misdiagnosis, Kim’s tumor grew from the size of a lima bean to the size of a fist. Once the cancer was accurately diagnosed, Kim was rushed to the operating table and endured nine surgeries in the span of just four weeks. A flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, Kim had some of the operations in Hawaii and some in Seattle, and was left with permanent nerve damage and facial disfiguration.

According to his lawsuit, Kim needed extensive facial reconstructive surgery, in which surgeons created a new jaw bone with bone from his leg. To recreate a normal looking and functioning mouth, Kim’s surgeons harvested muscle from his chest, and took skin from his abdomen to replace lost tissue on his cheek. Despite multiple attempts to reconstruct his cancer-ravaged face, Kim is unable to chew normally since his salivary glands don’t work and has no sensation on the left side of his mouth. However, he is thankful to simply be alive.

“It was a long journey, a very long journey. My future is unknown but I’m happy. I’m happy to be here,” said Kim, who is now a strong advocate for the early detection of cancer. Healthy for now, Kim still returns for check-ups every six months to ensure the cancer stays at bay.

A spokesperson for Straub says the hospital disagrees with the cancer misdiagnosis verdict. “We respect the legal process and the time that the jury put into the case, but we do disagree with the verdict. We are exploring our options with our legal counsel,” said Kristen Bonilla.

Misdiagnosing cancer a common occurrence

According to results from a collaborative study between the National Coalition on Health Care and Best Doctors, Inc., some 60.5 percent of surveyed physicians believe cancer misdiagnosis rates hover between zero and 10 percent. This figure is a stark contrast to the 28 percent rate of misdiagnoses estimated by the BMJ Quality and Safety medical journal. Researchers discovered that among doctors surveyed, most believed that lymphoma was the most prevalent misdiagnosed cancer, followed by breast cancer, sarcoma, melanoma, and cancer of an unknown origin.

When asked why they believe that cancer misdiagnosis rates are so high, doctors gave the following reasons:

  • Missing or fragmented information across medical information systems
  • Insufficient pathology diagnostic resources
  • Inadequate genetic data available at the time of diagnosis

Methods to reduce incident of misdiagnosis cited by doctors included new or improved pathology tools and resources and more accessible resources for the testing of tumor genetics.

  1. KHON2, Mililani man awarded $5.6 million after cancer misdiagnosis

  2. Hawaii News Now, Mililani man awarded $5.6 million for missed cancer diagnosis

  3. Boston Magazine, Misdiagnosing Cancer is More Common Than We Think