In today’s New York Times, Walt Bogdanich reports on the devastating consequences of medical mistakes related to radiation treatment. He tells the story of several patients who believed they were undergoing lifesaving treatment but instead were hit with lethal doses of radiation. He writes:
As Scott Jerome-Parks lay dying, he clung to this wish: that his fatal radiation overdose — which left him deaf, struggling to see, unable to swallow, burned, with his teeth falling out, with ulcers in his mouth and throat, nauseated, in severe pain and finally unable to breathe — be studied and talked about publicly so that others might not have to live his nightmare.
Sensing death was near, Mr. Jerome-Parks summoned his family for a final Christmas. His friends sent two buckets of sand from the beach where they had played as children so he could touch it, feel it and remember better days.
Mr. Jerome-Parks died several weeks later in 2007. He was 43.
A New York City hospital treating him for tongue cancer had failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with errant beams of radiation. Not once, but on three consecutive days.
Soon after the accident, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, state health officials cautioned hospitals to be extra careful with linear accelerators, machines that generate beams of high-energy radiation.
Without a doubt, radiation saves countless lives, and serious accidents are rare. But patients often know little about the harm that can result when safety rules are violated and ever more powerful and technologically complex machines go awry. To better understand those risks, The New York Times examined thousands of pages of public and private records and interviewed physicians, medical physicists, researchers and government regulators.
The Times found that while this new technology allows doctors to more accurately attack tumors and reduce certain mistakes, its complexity has created new avenues for error — through software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training. When those errors occur, they can be crippling.
Read the full report, “The Radiation Boom: Radiation Offers New Cures and Ways to Do Harm.” Be sure to see this fascinating multimedia graphic that shows how radiation errors can occur.
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US Department of Veterans Affairs Fined For Under-Radiation
Washington Post March 18, 2010
Agency fined over
The Department of Veterans Affairs was fined $227,500 after incorrect radiation doses were given to 97 veterans with prostate cancer at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, a federal agency announced Wednesday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the fine is the second-largest it has levied for medical errors. VA was cited for lacking procedures to ensure and verify treatments were done correctly, failing to properly train staff and neglecting to immediately report mistakes.Most of the men received far less than the prescribed radiation dose to kill cancer cells.