HELENA, Mont. — A judge has ordered the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center to pay nearly $60,000 to a Winston man who was wrongly diagnosed with brain cancer and told he had just a few months to live.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote that the distress Mark Templin and his family suffered was caused by Dr. Patrick Morrow’s “negligent failure to meet the standard of care” in delivering the diagnosis in 2009.
Molloy’s decision noted that in the months Templin believed he was dying he quit his job, sold his pickup truck, celebrated a “last” birthday, bought a prearranged funeral service and contemplated suicide. His son-in-law built a box for his ashes.
The Independent Record reports that as Templin began to feel better, he underwent additional testing that determined he had instead suffered several small strokes.
“It is difficult to put a price tag on the anguish of a man wrongly convinced of his impending death,” Molloy wrote. “Mr. Templin lived for 148 days ... under the mistaken impression that he was dying of metastatic brain cancer.”
In his May 6 ruling, Molloy decided to award $500 per day for the initial period of severe mental and emotional distress and $300 per day for the latter period until Templin received his new diagnosis. He also ordered the VA to repay Templin for the cost of the birthday party and funeral. The total award was $59,820.
Templin’s said in his 2011 lawsuit that he went to the VA in January 2009 for chest pain and had a stent inserted. Weeks later, he developed problems with his memory, vision and speech and was having headaches.
Morrow, an internist, referred Templin to an ophthalmologist who suspected Templin had suffered a stroke. A CT scan showed brain abnormalities, which Morrow discussed with a neuroradiologist who told Morrow that Templin could be suffering from a brain tumor, stroke or something else. The radiologist said further testing was needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Later that day, Morrow met with the VA’s tumor board and presented the case as a strong suspicion of brain cancer, apparently without mentioning it could have been a stroke, according to court records.
Morrow testified during a trial that his “greatest fear” was brain cancer and that further diagnostics were needed and he advised Templin to undergo an MRI. That contradicted Templin’s medical records that gave no indication further tests were needed or given.
Templin, who’s in his 70s, was prescribed two drugs to treat brain cancer, one of which is not supposed to be given to stroke patients, according to court records. Hospice care also was ordered.
Templin testified that he cried often and considered shooting himself so his family wouldn’t have to watch him wither away.
He started feeling better and terminated hospice care in June. In July, he underwent additional testing at Fort Harrison. The doctor told him a CT scan showed multiple small strokes, but no brain cancer. An MRI in December 2009 confirmed that it was a stroke that caused his symptoms earlier that year.