Cancer Centre found guilty in Smokey’s death
Bittersweet win for wife
The Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre (BLCTC) and its owner Medcorp Limited have been found negligent in the death of businessman Ricardo “Smokey” McKenzie.
Delivering a 35-page judgement in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday afternoon, Justice Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that McKenzie’s death was caused by a radiation overdose during his treatment at the centre in 2009.
She noted that while McKenzie’s doctors suggested that he had five years to live when he was first diagnosed, he only survived for 18 months because of the centre’s negligent treatment.
McKenzie’s wife Lisa and two daughters Ornella and Daniella, are seeking almost $20 million in compensation, including US$500,000 that was expended on his medical treatment and just over $16m in loss of his earnings.
However, Dean-Armorer did not address the issue in her judgement, as she called on attorneys for both parties to present further submissions on the pain and suffering experienced by McKenzie and his family.
The submissions are expected to be filed next month, with Dean-Armorer giving her decision on the issue on July 31.
McKenzie’s family was in court for the hearing and were heard crying and seen consoling each other as Dean-Armorer read her judgement. In a telephone interview yesterday evening, Lisa McKenzie said her family was happy they had finally received justice over his death.
“I am happy we got justice because we always knew deep down that it was over radiation that caused Ricardo’s death,” she said.
However, she said they were disappointed that Dean-Armorer deferred her assessment of compensation.
“It was bittersweet. It has been so long and we waited six years,” she said.
In her judgement, Dean-Armorer noted that BLCTC admitted that its linear accelerator was miscalibrated during the period of McKenzie’s treatment. She also pointed out that while testifying at the trial, its former clinical director, Dr Peter Bovell, admitted the centre did not have a senior physicist to operate the machine and it relied on a junior employee who was not certified to do so.
She said: “In the context of this claim, a medical facility, which offers treatment by powerful and potentially dangerous machines, has a duty to their patients to provide adequately qualified staff to ensure the proper functioning of the machine.”
Approximately 200 patients were affected by the miscalibration, with the centre settling claims with most except McKenzie’s and a handful of others, who were awaiting Dean-Armorer’s decision to continue their lawsuits.
In analysing the evidence, Dean-Armorer compared the expert evidence presented by the centre and McKenzie’s family, who each called three foreign medical experts to testify. She noted that the centre’s witness, Dr Khalil Sultanem, from Canada, questioned why McKenzie only showed symptoms of radiation necrosis 10 months after he was exposed to 13.9 per cent more than his recommended dose of radiation. Sultanem also claimed it was abnormal to contract radiation necrosis from a radiation overdose.
“There was, however, no expert explanation for the possible occurrence of radiation necrosis apart from the radiation treatment to which the deceased had submitted in September 2009,” Dean-Armorer said.
In deciding whether radiation necrosis was the main cause of McKenzie’s death, Dean-Armorer analysed the evidence of United States (US) neurosurgeon Dr Roberto Heros, of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, who treated McKenzie before his death in December 2010.
In his testimony, Heros maintained that McKenzie’s case was the “worst case” he had encountered in his then 40 years in his profession.
McKenzie’s family was represented by Terrence Bharath and Andre Le Blanc, while Lydia Mendonca, Ravi Nanga and Neil Bisnath represented the centre and Medcorp.
ABOUT THE CASE
Ricardo “Smokey” McKenzie, 55, who co-owned the popular Smokey and Bunty bar in St James, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009.
He received external beam radiation therapy at the BLCTC for six weeks in September, that year.
In June 2010, McKenzie underwent an operation for swelling in his brain.
He was then taken to the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, for further treatment before he eventually died, later that year.
In addition to claiming that the centre was negligent over the miscalibration, McKenzie’s wife contended that the centre failed to take reasonable steps to notify them of it and that an overdose of radiation may have occurred.
After McKenzie’s death, the centre offered the family US$10,000 to assist with his medical bills.
While she is seeking almost $20 million in compensation, McKenzie’s wife admitted during the trial that after his death she left her job and took over his role in the business.
The lawsuit was filed weeks after former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan announced that there was the possibility that almost 200 patients who sought treatment at the BLCTC could have been exposed to potential late effects of irradiation. His statement was based on the findings of a PAHO investigation conducted in September 2010 after discrepancies over a possible miscalibration were raised.
The BLCTC had admitted that it was aware of a small miscalibration on its linear accelerator but promptly sought to have it adjusted, checked and verified at a calibration laboratory in the United States.
Excerpt from T&T Guardian Newspaper
Saturday 30th June.