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Kaiser Slow to Diagnose Tumor, Woman Claims

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) - Kaiser doctors waited years to investigate a woman's continued chest pain, leading to disfiguring surgery to remove a large tumor, she claims in Fairfax County Court.

Michele O'Connell began receiving treatment from Kaiser physicians in January 2010. In September 2011, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy and then breast reconstruction surgery at a Kaiser hospital in Springfield, Va.

Beginning in Fall 2011 and throughout 2013, O'Connell complained of pain in her sternum and surrounding area, asking doctors on numerous occasions to take a closer look.

She says that despite her pain and requests for further investigation, Kaiser doctors "failed to order an MRI/CT scan and/or other types of diagnostic tests to treat plaintiff and/or to determine what was the cause of the pain in plaintiff's sternum area," the complaint states.

It wasn't until January 2014 that defendant Dr. Bassema Antabli finally ordered tests that revealed a mass in her chest. Antabli, however, wrote it off as scar tissue, O'Connell says.

Doctors performed surgery to remove the mass on March 13, 2014, which involved removing part of her chest wall, several ribs and part of her sternum. Kaiser pathology later confirmed the mass was not scar tissue, rather a desmoid tumor.

Desmoid tumors arise from cells called fibroblasts, which are found throughout the body, according to the Desmoid Tumor Research Foundation. Their main function is to provide structural support and protection to the vital organs such as lung, liver, blood vessels, heart, kidneys, skin and intestines, and they play a critical role in wound healing. When fibroblast cells undergo mutations they can become cancerous.

O'Connell says her doctors should have taken her complaints seriously but chose to ignore her until it was too late.

"During the years of 2012 through 2014, plaintiff continued to demonstrate signs and symptoms consistent with a desmoid tumor and developing trauma," according to the complaint. "Yet the condition was not diagnosed by the defendants until several years later, in March of 2014."

O'Connell said the delay ultimately led to disfiguring surgery, resulting in physical and emotional pain.

"Due to this delay in the diagnoses, plaintiff suffered severe and permanent injuries, including ... unnecessary surgeries, loss of several ribs, loss of a portion of her chest wall and a permanent hole in her chest," the complaint states. "These injuries cause plaintiff a great amount of physical pain and anguish, as well as difficulty breathing and in other activities of daily living."

She sued Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group P.C., Doctors Bassema Antabli, Chun Rhim and Rebecca J. Davison, and physical therapist Janet Ellen Silvers for medical malpractice. She seeks $3 million in damages.

O'Connell is represented by Patrick Regan and Amy Griggs with Regan Zambri & Long, in Washington, D.C.

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