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Second Mistaken Mastectomy in Ontario, Same Surgeon Involved

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Windsor, ONJust days after it was revealed that a Canadian surgeon removed a patient's breast in error comes news that the same surgeon made a similar mistake in 2001. Dr. Barbara Heartwell has voluntarily stopped performing surgery pending the results of a hospital probe at the Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor.

CBC reported last night that officials have also found problems with unspecified pathology reports.

Laurie Johnston of Leamington, Ontario, underwent a needle biopsy in late 2009. Told by Dr. Heartwell that a mastectomy was necessary to prevent the spread of cancer, Johnston underwent the mastectomy in November. A week later, Dr. Heartwell reviewed the pathology report and was forced to admit to her patient that she didn't have cancer after all and the healthy breast had been removed in error.

At the time, the hospital gave the surgeon its full support, announcing that an investigation would be forthcoming, but suggesting that it was an isolated incident.

Not so, CBC revealed yesterday.

A woman named Janice Laporte has come forward with a similar story: In 2001 she underwent a needle biopsy and was told she had cancer. Dr. Heartwell performed a mastectomy at the same hospital, only to report back a week later with the news that Laporte didn't have cancer after all.

Laporte filed a lawsuit in 2002, which was settled before it could go to trial. She told the Canadian Press that hearing Johnston's story was disturbing because it was so similar to her own. "Then when I heard the Hotel Dieu hospital officials on TV saying that this was a human error and as far as they're concerned in 28 years Dr. Heartwell has never made another mistake, that's when I said, OK, wait a minute here," said Laporte.

Her own statement of claim alleged that Heartwell performed "dramatic, disfiguring and invasive surgery" on her without informing her that the pathologists who reviewed her tissue sample were seeking an outside opinion. Heartwell's statement of defense noted that Laporte was given a copy of the pathology report, which included reference to a request for an outside opinion.

Regardless, Laporte questions how the hospital could have gone unaware about her own case nine years earlier. She told the CBC last night that she regrets not coming forward until now. If she had, she said, the more recent error might have been prevented.

Ontario's Ministry of Health is currently rolling out a mandatory checklist system intended to prevent such errors from occurring again. It should be available in all Ontario hospitals by April.



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