Elisha Cooke-Moore had been told she had cancer-causing genes.
The 36-year-old mother said an obstetrician-gynecologist noted that the results of her genetic testing showed she had a 50 percent chance of getting breast cancer and up to an 80 percent chance of getting uterine cancer, so she underwent a recommended double mastectomy and hysterectomy to try to beat the odds.
But Cooke-Moore, 36, from Gold Beach, Ore., said that months after she had the surgeries, she learned that her medical team was wrong — the test results were negative. Now she is suing Curry County Health District and members of her medical team for $1.8 million.
“I am damaged for the rest of my life,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, her voice cracking.
The lawsuit states that Cooke-Moore had a total hysterectomy in August 2016 and, not two months later, a prophylactic bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy along with breast implants.
During an annual exam in 2015, Cooke-Moore received genetic testing to determine her risk of breast and other cancers. Cooke-Moore said she had expressed concerns to her doctor regarding a family history of cancer, so it was agreed she would be tested for a BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutation. Although the results were negative, her nurse practitioner misinterpreted them — and Cooke-Moore was told she had the MLH1 gene mutation and Lynch syndrome, according to the medical malpractice lawsuit.
The National Institutes of Health states that Lynch syndrome increases the risks of many types of cancer, particularly those in the colon and rectum, but also ovarian, uterine and other cancers.
Cooke-Moore said her nurse practitioner, who seemingly misread the results, referred her to specialists within the Curry Health Network — gynecologist William Fitts, who performed her hysterectomy and then recommended surgeon Jessica Carlson to handled her double mastectomy and reconstruction. But Cooke-Moore said neither of the doctors independently confirmed the results.
The lawsuit claims that Cooke-Moore's medical team “continued to negligently rely upon the misinterpreted genetic testing results.”
Cooke-Moore said a doctor even wrote a letter to her children, who do not live with her, urging them to get tested for the mutation.
“I'm dumbfounded. We're all dumbfounded,” said Cooke-Moore's attorney, Christopher Cauble. “They all should have caught this.”
Cauble said that in addition to needless operations, his client's replacement implants were placed during the double mastectomy surgery, prompting at least 10 corrective surgeries to manage complications.
Representatives for the Curry Health Network and an attorney for the hospital and Fitts did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Carlson said she could not comment on pending litigation.
Cooke-Moore said she discovered the mistake earlier this year while reading through her test results and noticed that it read “negative.”
“Devastated,” she said, remembering how she felt at the time. “I'm just not sure how you can mistake a negative for a positive.”
If she had it to do over, Cooke-Moore said that she would probably get a second opinion before she agreed to have the surgeries.
More and more, medical experts are encouraging second opinions — not out of distrust, but to ensure that the doctor and patient are making the best decisions.
“Every patient has a right to a second opinion,” Joseph Fins, chief of medical ethics at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, told Columnist Steven Petrow, “and it would worry me if a physician was opposed.”
Petrow recently wrote an op-ed for The Post titled: “I heard what my doctor thinks; now I want a second opinion. How do I get one?” In it, he bullet-pointed how patients should handle second opinions:
•Don’t be talked out of seeking another opinion by your current doctor or anyone else; this is your decision.
•Be upfront but respectful with your doctor. You are partners in this, and having your doctor on your side makes it easier to transfer your medical records and coordinate care.
•Don’t shop for a specialist who will tell you what you want to hear. You need the unvarnished truth.
•Provide the second doctor with all relevant information in your medical record. Fins warns about the “discontinuity of care if all the facts don’t follow you.”
Cooke-Moore said she was too trusting.
“I trusted my community,” Cooke-Moore said, adding that she has since been diagnosed with PTSD. “I guess shame on me. Maybe I shouldn't have, but I did.”