‘Graces’ monument marks breast cancer errors

Barb Sweet
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Darryll Howell and his daughter Katie look at a monument entitled “Graces” after it was unveiled outside the Health Sciences Centre Monday. The  monument honours the victims of hospital testing errors that affected treatment options for breast cancer patients.  
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

A monument depicting hope, health and healing was unveiled Monday at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s.

On hand were a host of people affected by by the breast cancer testing scandal, including Darryl Howell and his daughter Katie, and Dr. Robert Deane, each of whom lost a loved one to breast cancer.

“It’s a lovely piece of art,” said Deane, taking a break from his duties to attend the event. “It’s very fitting and it’s well placed. … It’s exceeded my expectations.”

The monument, titled “Graces,” depicts three women in Laurentian pink granite with extensions of cross-shaped black at its base. A fourth space is empty, to represent loss and suffering.

 For Deane, the terrible loss was Peggy, the mother of his three children, who was a victim of the errors in testing to determine treatment for breast cancer that occurred at Eastern Health. Those errors led to an inquiry into the scandal in 2008.

But Deane accepted the findings of an independent report also released Monday that suggested Eastern Health has learned from the mistakes and heeded the 2009 Cameron Inquiry report.

“It’s not my field of expertise,” said the Janeway orthopedic surgeon of the report which delves into, among other things, improvements in the pathology lab. “I trust it and accept it. It sounds excellent and they did a good job.”

His wife, who was a nurse, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and was considered the index case in 2005 that triggered the investigation into errors at the immunohistochemistry lab at Eastern Health.

The errors occurred from 1997 to 2005 involving estrogen and progesterone receptor tests, which determine treatment options for breast cancer patients.

The couple got an opinion in the U.S. which proved Peggy Deane’s original hormone receptor test result was wrong.

But by that time —  2005 — Peggy Deane was riddled with cancer. She died in August of that year.

Daryl Howell and his daughter Katie also said they were at peace with the progress Eastern Health has made in fixing its failings.

Howell’s wife, Donna, despite her ill health, was gracious in speaking with reporters during the ordeal. The obstetrics and gynecology nurse died in 2009 at age 53.

“She wanted to make sure these mistakes were taken care of and this won’t happen again,” Darryl Howell said.

“It’s excellent. I am sure she would like it.”

“Some good came out of this.

“ A lot of recommendations were  fixed and everything these women have fought so hard for has had justice,” said Katie Howell. Her sister, Lori Greene, a nurse, wasn’t able to be at the ceremony, but will walk by it every shift.

‘”The reason (my mom) fought this was so that people like me and my sister who have breast cancer in the family, or any sort of cancer, wouldn’t have to go  through this in future.”

The monument was among the  non-monetary conditions of a $17.5-million class-action settlement over the testing errors.

Some 425 patients received the wrong results from hormone receptor testing from the immunohistochemistry lab in

St. John’s between 1997 and 2005. The errors were discovered in 2005 and the health authority became embroiled in a scandal over disclosure of the rate of error and handling of the debacle. The class action involved 2,800 members, ranging from those who were simply tested during the period the errors occurred to those whose test result changed on retesting, did not receive timely hormone therapy and suffered a breast cancer recurrence within 10 years of the original diagnosis.

On Monday, Eastern Health also released an independent review of the Cameron Report recommendations specific to Eastern Health, conducted by Jane Helleur and Associates Inc., at a cost of $55,000.

The report concluded 39 of Justice Margaret Cameron’s recommendations were solely owned by Eastern Health, as opposed to involving the other health authorities and the provincial government.

Evaluating those 39, the  consultant concluded all but one — that of specifically appointing a vice-president of quality control  had been completed, although 22  of the completed recommendations require periodic review as they are ongoing.

“What we realized as we were partway through our work was that something quite remarkable has occurred within laboratory medicine at Eastern Health and its quality management system. Indeed, the entire laboratory process and the way pathologists, managers, technologists, and other staff think about and perform their work has been truly transformative,” the consultants concluded.

As for the one recommendation, CEO Vickie Kaminski told a gathering of staff, guests and reporters that there is a person in charge of quality and risk management, but there are other duties involved in the job. Kaminski, who came to Eastern Health four years ago, said she takes pride in the authority’s effort to regain the public’s trust.

“To our patients and families, I wanted them to know we have learned. We have acted. We have changed for the better,” Kaminski said.

The $90,000 monument is located between the main and emergency entrances, and was created by James C. Smith of Madoc, Ont..

It’s accompanied by two plaques — one explaining the sculpture’s intent and another featuring a poem.

Marie Hickey, a breast cancer survivor who represented Western Health on the class-action patient advisory committee and member of the group that chose the artist, said the piece is a symbol of the strength, courage and resilience of the survivors and the families of those who have died, as well as the hard work of Eastern Health staff.

“The artwork we will be unveiling today was the one that most closely fit what we had in mind. Actually, in my opinion, it exactly fit what we had in mind,” she said.




Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, Jane Helleur and Associates

Geographic location: U.S.

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Recent comments

  • EH employee
    July 09, 2013 - 11:49

    And yet, we're doomed to repeat situations like this because the provincial government has frozen all discretionary spending including the allocation of educational leave. In order for me and my co-workers to access any continuing education, we have to use our own vacation time. Not to mention there is no funding support.

  • carogers
    July 09, 2013 - 10:36

    That is a nice. A place to remember the victims who paid the ultimate sacrifice for TRUSTING the health care system. God bless the family's .