November 11, 2009 by Kathleen Kerr
Last April, Janelle Trenchfield was told she had breast cancer.
A biopsy at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola had confirmed the diagnosis, and so in June, the anguished Freeport woman had surgery to remove a lump and lymph nodes - only to find out days later that she hadn't had cancer at all. The biopsy results, she learned, had been mixed up. A label with her name had been put on the tissue samples of a different patient. And now, Trenchfield, 35, has filed a negligence lawsuit against Winthrop in State Supreme Court.
"One could imagine the extreme emotional stress, being told that you have cancer," said her attorney, Todd Greenberg of Forest Hills. "Now this woman's breast is severely scarred, lymph nodes were removed, which subjects her to disease, and she's currently in psychological counseling for the trauma she had to go through."
Trenchfield declined to comment.
Winthrop spokesman John Broder said the hospital has not been officially served with the lawsuit but acknowledges the mix-up.
"After a thorough investigation, this was determined to be as a result of human error and procedural issues," Broder said. "All procedures for the handling and labeling of tissue samples were immediately revised."
Broder did not provide any information about personnel involved in the mix-up or specifics about changes in procedure.
The episode highlights continuing concern about medical errors in hospitals across the country. In 1999, the nonprofit Institute of Medicine issued a widely cited report estimating between 44,000 and 98,000 people died in hospitals each year as the result of medical errors.
Arthur Levin, director of the nonprofit Center for Medical Consumers in Manhattan, said that tissue-sample mistakes point to a system breakdown.
"These kinds of mistakes are human errors that can only be prevented by having systems in place to prevent them," Levin said. "You have to develop a tried-and-true system that has double checks."
Greenberg said Trenchfield had a routine mammogram and sonogram at Winthrop in April and was told there was an irregularity in her right breast. She then had the biopsy at Winthrop and was told the results showed infiltrating ductal carcinoma.
A surgeon at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside performed a lumpectomy on June 18. At the same time, the surgeon removed lymph nodes. On June 24, he told Trenchfield that tissue samples from the surgery were negative for cancer.
That's when Trenchfield called Winthrop, Greenburg said, and a hospital nurse called her on June 28 to say someone had mistakenly labeled another patient's biopsy sample with her name.
Broder, the Winthrop spokesman, would not identify the other patient or say whether that woman also received a wrong diagnosis. He said the other woman received appropriate "follow-up treatment."