EDGEWOOD, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A mother says she continues to pay medical bills a year after she was misdiagnosed with cancer.
Last year, Christina Brothers visited CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas for what should have been a routine doctor’s appointment.
Brothers, a nurse, had just moved to Edgewood, Texas with her family. The town is about an hour east of Dallas.
“I was just going for a routine bladder workup because I get a lot of bladder infections,” Brothers said. A few days later, Brothers said she got a call that a CAT scan showed multiple masses on her abdomen.
“I probably had the [nurse] read the report three or four times,” she said.
Another trip to the doctor revealed a devastating diagnosis: metastatic non-small cell carcinoma, a form of lung cancer.
The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls and tears.
“I called my husband and he came home, called my mom and she came home. I called my best friend and she left work that day to come see me,” Brothers said. “We cried… a lot of crying. It was just overwhelming.”
Brothers also broke the news to her three daughters.
“You know, when you tell your kids that, ‘Hey, Mommy’s got cancer,’ I mean, they cried,” Brothers recalled.
Brothers spent weeks undergoing tests as doctors tried to figure out where the cancer originated. She said she even started discussing chemotherapy with an oncologist.
The rest of the time she spent worrying about the future.
“I literally was searching for funeral homes and trying to figure out what would be the cheapest way of burial,” Brothers said.
The family sold their travel trailer to help with the residual bills and even considered selling their home and moving in with family.
“Everything pretty much started going on the credit cards,” said Brothers. “My husband was working six days a week trying to make up and make ends meet.”
Six weeks after the diagnosis, Brothers said she received even more shocking news: she didn’t have cancer at all.
According to Brothers, it was her OB/GYN who suspected the diagnosis was off. Brothers got a second opinion from the Pathologists Biomedical Laboratories in Lewisville. Their report amended the cancer diagnosis.
Brothers said the masses on her abdomen were actually splenic tissue, the remnants of a past splenectomy. Brothers’ spleen was removed decades ago after a violent car crash.
Brothers said it became clear there was a lack of communication between doctors.
“The radiologist said that there was no mass within my spleen, which is just wrong because he should’ve noted there was no spleen,” she said.
However, Brothers puts most of the blame on the pathologist.
“He’s ultimately the one that misdiagnosed it,” she said. “He should’ve known the difference between splenic tissue and cancer tissue.”
Brothers said the hospital apologized and assured her they had changed their procedures to allow doctors obtain easier access to patient records. The splenectomy should have been noted in her medical records.
Soon Brothers went back to work and hoped life would return to normal. Then the medical bills from a myriad of doctors started arriving.
“They should’ve offered to reimburse me. I never should’ve had to pay that pathology bill in the first place,” said Brothers.
In the last year she said she’s paid nearly $8,000 in out-of-pocket costs.
“They can’t give me back the time that I lost,” said Brothers, “They can’t fix most of anything – but they can take care of all the bills.”
Brothers’ nightmare may be more common than you think.
“The literature shows that the most common misdiagnosis is around cancer,” said Jessica Rangel, who runs the Institute for Patient Safety at the UNT Health Science Center.
Rangel said an estimated 15 percent of medical encounters result in misdiagnosis. Rangel added that misdiagnoses are more likely to happen in outpatient offices, where information can pass through a maze of doctors and technicians.
“That increases the chance that there could potentially be an error that takes place,” said Rangel, who urges patients to seek a second opinion.
It’s been a year since the misdiagnosis, and Brothers said she’s still paying for the mistake.
“A year later and I’m still getting bills,” Brothers said. ” I’m mad.”
But Brothers said the emotional toll cost her far more.
“They owe me more than just, ‘I’m sorry,'” Brothers said.
A spokeswoman for the hospital declined an on-camera interview but sent CBS 11 this statement:
Earlier this year, CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances’ patient advocacy team met with Ms. Brothers in an effort to understand and address her concerns. It was our understanding that the matter had been resolved to her satisfaction since we had not heard from her since that time. Given the fact that we now understand she is raising additional concerns concerning medical bills from other providers, we welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss any additional issues she might wish to address, and are reaching out to contact her. Consistent with CHRISTUS Health’s core values of compassion, integrity and respecting the dignity of the patient, we look forward to working directly with her in the coming days. We thank you for contacting us and look forward to speaking with Ms. Brothers.
Then, on Tuesday morning, CBS 11 learned the hospital is asking to sit down with Brothers to go over the bills, her lost wages and her fuel costs for visiting so many doctors.