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Windsor hospital blames diagnostic slip-ups on doctor's cataracts

A doctor made a series of diagnostic errors at a hospital in Windsor, Ont., due in part to cataracts that blurred her vision, says an internal report released through a Freedom of Information request.

Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital caught four of the errors before any harm was done, but the report said a fifth patient had an unnecessary colostomy because of an incorrect cancer diagnosis made by Dr. Olive Williams. And a sixth patient is cited who is said to have received an incorrect lumpectomy.

Dr. Williams is at the centre of a probe into pathology tests she conducted at all three hospitals in Windsor. Investigators appointed by Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews plan to release the findings at the end of the week, which could reveal further problems.

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Hôtel-Dieu suspended Dr. Williams on Jan. 4 after launching its own review. In the Feb. 16 internal report titled Issues And Key Messages, the hospital informs its Local Health Integration Network, or LHIN, it had uncovered six "known cases" of errors made by Dr. Williams.

The hospital attributes the errors in part to what it describes as a "physical issue" with Dr. Williams - the cataracts.

Dr. Williams could not be reached for comment.

Ontario Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott, whose party first obtained the report, said the hospital and the local health agency was irresponsible for failing to immediately fill in the public on the problem.

"It sure does look like a cover-up," Ms. Elliott said in an interview. "Everyone has a right to be informed."

Hôtel-Dieu spokeswoman Kim Spirou declined to comment on Dr. Williams because of the investigation.

The hospital announced on Feb. 24 that it had suspended an unnamed pathologist on Jan. 4, after discovering errors in pathology reports. Two days later, the hospital identified Dr. Williams by name, adding that about 15,000 reports on patients are under review and the 3,500 "highest risk" ones will be reviewed first.

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The public first heard about problems at Hôtel-Dieu after a publicized case involving Laurie Johnston, whose healthy breast was removed by Barbara Heartwell, another doctor at the hospital.

In its Feb. 16 internal report to the LHIN, the hospital stated a local television station was working on a story about Ms. Johnston. It said it planned to issue a statement about Dr. Heartwell but added it would reveal nothing about Dr. Williams until it knew the full scope of the problem.

"The hospital would like to review sample charts before going public in order to determine the magnitude of this issue and not alarm the public," the report said.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is investigating both doctors.

What's not in the report is any mention of a cancer patient Dr. Williams misdiagnosed in January, 2007, three years before she was suspended. But interviews with individuals familiar with the case reveal the College also kept problems associated with Dr. Williams under wraps.

The College reprimanded Dr. Williams in January, 2009, for misdiagnosing Margaret Musgrave, who later died of cancer.

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Ms. Musgrave's husband, Stuart Musgrave, has filed a lawsuit in an Ontario court, accusing Dr. Williams of negligence. Dr. Williams has not filed a statement of defence and the allegations have not been proven in court.

Mr. Musgrave said he became aware the College knew that Dr. Williams examined only two of three tissue samples from his late wife after he complained to the self-regulatory agency. He asked it for copies of correspondence obtained during its review, done behind closed doors. In a letter Mr. Musgrave obtained, Dr. Williams wrote on Jan. 6, 2009 to the College, saying "I sincerely apologize for my part in not picking up this tumour at onset."

The letter was not made public or sent to Hôtel-Dieu, sources said.

According to allegations in Mr. Musgrave's statement of claim, Dr. Williams determined his wife had a perforated appendix in January, 2007. The suit alleges she did not detect the cancer because she did not review a third tissue sample, which showed a malignant tumour.

The following year, Ms. Musgrave was diagnosed with cancer that originated in her appendix. She died four months later at age 82.

"The College kept it quiet and it's not right," Mr. Musgrave said in an interview. "These things should be made public."

A spokeswoman for the College declined to confirm it had sent a caution letter to Dr. Williams, saying such matters are not public information.

Mr. Musgrave said he is anxiously awaiting the report to be released this week by the team of investigators appointed by the province and led by Dr. Barry McLellan, chief executive officer of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

"Where was the third slide?" he asked, referring to the tissue sample Dr. Williams allegedly did not review. "Why did she miss it? These answers will be revealed, I hope, in the medical investigation."

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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