A Chatsworth teen had to have life-saving surgery, including the amputation of her right leg, because of delays in getting authorization from her Kaiser health plan for an MRI that would have detected an aggressive cancer earlier, an attorney told a jury Tuesday.
Lawyer Michael Bidart told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing final arguments in the trial of Anna Rahm’s lawsuit against Southern California Permanente Medical Group that two doctors ignored medical red flags that should have told them an MRI was immediately necessary.
He said only the persistence of the girl’s mother, Lynette, ultimately forced Dr. Charlene Huang to clear the way for the procedure in July 2009, four months after the Rahms first requested it.
“The time has now come where they have to listen to you,” said Bidart, who recommended an award of $3.68 million in economic damages and many millions more for his client’s pain and suffering.
But defense attorney N. Denise Taylor said Huang and Dr. Ngan Voung wanted to try conservative treatment before resorting to more aggressive measures. She said the trial evidence showed the teen’s cancer had reached her spine when the physicians treated her in March 2009 and that time was thus not the factor Bidart suggests when it came to ordering the MRI. “Once her spine is involved, her leg has to come off,” Taylor said.
Rahm, now 23, filed suit in June 2010. Her court papers state that she was 16 years old when she began having back pain in August 2008 that grew worse over time. Her family’s chiropractor in February 2009 ordered that X-rays be taken of her back, but a radiologist not affiliated with Kaiser concluded the teen’s condition was normal, according to the lawsuit. The chiropractor recommended that she get an MRI from Kaiser, according to Rahm’s court papers.
Bidart and Taylor gave different accounts of what Rahm and her mother told Huang, Rahm’s primary care physician, and Vuong, a specialist in physical medicine.
Bidart said Rahm’s mother requested MRIs for her daughter from both doctors, but Taylor said neither physician recalled her making such a request.
Bidart said Huang finally relented in June 2009 and the MRI was performed the next month, showing a malignant tumor in Rahm’s pelvis, Bidart said. In October 2009 she underwent surgery to remove her right leg and half of her pelvis.
“A less aggressive surgery could have been performed if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier,” Bidart said, saying Rahm’s leg could have been saved.
Bidart said Rahm was “right up to death’s doorstep” and that she would have died had her cancer not been discovered and surgically removed.
“Anna Rahm deserved to have a timely and prompt diagnosis of her disease,” Bidart said.
Bidart said the doctors tried to blame Rahm and her mother in part for what happened, saying they should have come back for appointments sooner.
But Taylor told jurors that Rahm had a rare form of cancer that was even more unusual in young women her age and that the two doctors who treated her were not negligent.
“It was not anyone at Kaiser’s fault,” Taylor said.
Taylor said only a handful of doctors nationwide know how to perform the surgery the plaintiff received. She said the woman is now cancer-free, is working and has a full expectation of living up to her normal life expectancy of another 59 years.
“She has indisputably had an excellent result,” Taylor said of Rahm’s post-surgery progress. “You would be inhuman if you didn’t have sympathy for her. But this case is not about sympathy. It’s about whether the two doctors complied with the standard of care.”
The plaintiff was not in court for the final arguments. Bidart said Rahm’s psychiatrist recommended she not be present.
— City News Service