A federal judge has awarded $900,000 in damages to the wife of a Navy officer who contended in a lawsuit against the government that a doctor at the Fort Myer military clinic failed to discover promptly that she was suffering from breast cancer five years ago.
The woman, Patricia Hernandez, 43, went to the Fort Myer clinic in September 1975, complaining of a lump in her left breast, according to court records.Dr. Edward G. Kock, the doctor who examined her at the clinic, was unable to locate any such disorder, but suggested that Hernandez return to the clinic in 10 days, the records say. During the second visit, Hernandez contended, Kock gave her a routine physical examination, which included a breat exam, but did not specifically address her earlier complaint about a lump in her left breast.
Kock contended that he gave Hernandez a breast exam during that visit, was unaware of her earlier complaint and determined that her condition was normal.
Eighteen months later, after complained of severe pain in her left arm, another physician found that she had cancer. Subsequently, court records said, she underwent a mastectomy of her left breast, a hysterectomy and has received chemotherapy and radiation treatments -- all of which have failed to arrest the cancer. Hernandez' lawsuit in the U.S. District Court was solely against the federal government, which employed Koch, who was a civilian obstetrician-gynecologist working for the military on a contract basis, lawyers in the case said.
Judge June L. Green had earlier refused to award the woman any damages, ruling that she had failed to prove that Koch did not meet the standard of care expected when a patient raises a medical complaint about her breasts. Last September the U.S. Court of Appeals sent the case back to Green, saying that the physician must also be aware of and resolve specific complaints brought by the patient that she felt a lump in her breast, gears his examination to that complaint and propose follow-up procedures.
In an opinion signed Oct. 29, Green ruled that the doctor's failure to examine Hernandez more thoroughly "constituted an improper and negligent diagnosis." The doctor's failure to resolve Hernandez' complaint about the lump in her breast by further examination and earlier diagnosis diminished "her chances for control of the cancer before it spread," Green said in her opinion.
Green also awarded $50,000 to Hernandez' husband, Capt. D.E. Hernandez, the commanding officer of the Naval aircraft John F. Kennedy, for the loss of his wife's services as a result of the doctor's conduct.