Widow to sue over T&T cancer shocker

(Trinidad Express) Lisa McKenzie, widow of deceased popular bar owner, Ricardo McKenzie, yesterday confirmed she will be taking legal action against the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre (BLCTC), where she claimed her late husband was a victim of over-radiation during treatment.

Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said on Wednesday that the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) had confirmed an error in the calibration of centre’s machine between June 2009 and June 2010.

McKenzie, 56, who co-owned Smokey’s and Bunty’s in St James, died at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida, USA, on December 21, 2010, following a series of treatments locally and abroad for a brain tumour.

Lisa McKenzie said prior to her husband’s death, he was diagnosed by his doctors at Jackson Memorial with “radiation necrosis” in the head, which is the death of tissue due to possible over-radiation.

McKenzie was treated at the centre at Fitzblackman Drive, Woodbrook, during the time the centre’s radiation machine was thought to have been miscalibrated.

McKenzie’s legal team is being led by Osbourne Charles, SC, who is looking to expedite the matter after months of gathering information and reports.

Up to early this year, Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Cumberbatch and former health minister, Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, as well as PAHO itself, refused to release the PAHO report despite repeated requests from the Express.

Speaking to the Express yesterday, Charles said this report, which was acquired by his legal team last Friday, was crucial in the decision to go ahead with legal action.

“We have received the PAHO report and we are still putting together our claim against the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre,” Charles added.

Charles said his team is now working to take the centre to court as quickly as possible.

The disclosure of the PAHO report by minister Khan was a bittersweet moment for McKenzie, who said yesterday while she is relieved to have made headway with her claims, the issue is a sensitive one.

“It is a very emotional time for my family and myself and for everyone who may have been treated during that time at the centre,” McKenzie said.

The machine error was first recorded in a report by local physicist David Rudder, a former employee of the Centre who had been contracted by the institution to investigate the then-suspected miscalibration.

Rudder’s June 2010 report stated that the machine may have administered up to 20 per cent more radiation than was necessary to some patients.

The machine, the only one of its kind in the region, is a CLINAC linear accelerator. It is made by the international company Varian Medical Systems and is considered to be among the top technologies in cancer treatment.

In a condensed version of the PAHO report acquired by the Express, the investigating team stated:

“We found no documented evidence that the BLCTC has made any effort to notify the involved patients of the miscalibration incident and potential impact on their well-being and quality of life.”

PAHO also noted that Trinidad and Tobago does not have an authority or legislation to govern the use and administration of radiation devices, such as X-ray machines and radiation therapy machines.

It is recommended by the world body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that every country, particularly those with radiation centres on a scale such as the BLCTC, establish a watchdog authority for the use of these devices.

PAHO also stated: “In the review of the agreement between the State and the centre, PAHO found no specific mention of: (a) requirements for quality assurance at BLCTC to ensure the highest quality of care for the patients treated with radiation therapy; (b) detailed description of benchmark parameters for MOH (Ministry of Health) to establish and monitor the performance and compliance with the terms of the agreement with BLCTC; (c) description of mechanism for BLCTC to report to MOH workload, compliance with agreement, evaluation of the BLCTC qualifications and changes of staff or other operating conditions. Regarding the Brian Lara Cancer Centre we found no evidence of an established organisational structure and clear policies for evaluation of staff qualifications and personnel management, including hiring.”

The organisation went on to say: “Quality assurance activities do not seem to be done on a regular basis and guidelines for these are not followed. There was a document entitled Quality Assurance for Physics and Dosimetry but it appears that it has not been updated recently. We found no evidence that a manual for technical operating procedures of the Brian Lara Cancer Centre was presented to us.”

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