A 28-year-old Canadian television producer lost her battle with cancer this week. But her fight isn’t over yet.
Houda Rafle was starting legal procedures against a Trillium Health radiologist whom she claimed misread a CT scan that showed the early stages of her cancer. But as the case was progressing, her health deteriorated.
She died on Wednesday, but her lawyer and her family plan to continue with the lawsuit.
"Houda's fight is never [going to] end. Our entire family is [going to] keep it alive with every fiber of our being,” sister Deeqa Rafle told CBS.
Rafle initially checked in at Trillium on March 5, complaining of shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Hospital staff took a CT scan of her heart.The radiologist who read it, Dr. Ivo Slezic, has been working at Trillium hospitals for 33 years. But somehow, he missed a 1.6 cm mass.
Rafle was discharged, but she she still felt symptoms of fatigue.
Meanwhile, Trillium hospital implemented a new radiology quality assurance program. The radiology chief found some problems with Slezic's work. The doctor's privileges were restricted in April. The hospital started studying the CT scans and mammograms of the 3,500 patients that Slezic saw between April 2012 and March 2013.
Rafle was initially seen by Dr. Ivo Slezic at the Trillium Health Partners.
In July, unable to cope with her mysterious symptoms, Rafle decided to visit a walk-in clinic for a chest x-ray. When that came back with some abnormalities, Rafle had it sent to a family doctor and eventually to a cardiologist at Trillium.
It wasn't until August that a Trillium cardiologist called Rafle on the phone and asked her to get to an emergency room as soon as possible.
A new CT scan revealed that the mass had grown to 2.5 cm. Rafle was then diagnosed with stage IV angiosarcoma. The cancer spread to her lungs and to her brain.
“I was very upset and disappointed because the radiologist had missed that and that was (five) months of my life when I could have done something about the cancer. But I wasn’t notified until it spread, and now it is stage four,” Houda told The Star in September
On Nov. 12, she filed a claim in court alleging that the hospital was negligent in not informing her that Slezic’s privileges had been restricted in April. The suit also claims that Slezic shouldn’t have been allowed to practice medicine because his abilities were impaired by fatigue, medical conditions or other factors.”
As it turns out, Slezic was going through some trials of his own. The doctor had just come back to work after going through chemotherapy for his own cancer.
The hospital has suspended Slezic. He has agreed to stop practicing while health officials investigate the incident.
Lavern Wilkinson, of Brooklyn, was unable to pursue a lawsuit because a state law precludes victims from filing 15 months after malpractice occurs at a city hospital. That time ran out before she knew she had curable cancer.
Before she died, Rafle prepared a press release with her lawyer.
“There are no words to describe the horrible impact the events giving rise to this action have had on my life and the lives of my family,” she wrote in a statement released to the Toronto Star. “But I am not doing this because I am angry or because I want to lay blame. The truth is I am concerned for many others whose lives can be destroyed if nothing changes.”
“I am really praying that I was the only patient that was misdiagnosed,” Rafle said in a video before her death.
Rafle was surrounded by her six brothers and sisters when she drew her last breath on Wednesday.
“It’s absolutely unfair . . . misdiagnosis, 28, healthy before that, my role model, my best friend my big sister. It’s a lot,” Deeqa said.
A Brooklyn woman went through a similar trial earlier this year.
Lavern Wilkinson visited Kings County Hospital with chest pain in February of 2010, where a first-year resident told her test results were negative. In March this year, Wilkinson died from lung cancer that had spread to several of her organs.
KCH decided to reform its hospital procedures after Wilkinson’s death. The radiology department is now required to report findings that are “abnormal” and not just those that are critical or urgent. The hospital also agreed to give outpatients their results by phone and preferably in person before they leave the premises.