Inmate sues UTMB for improper cancer diagnosis

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | Aug 27, 2008

GALVESTON – A Texas inmate has sued the University of Texas Medical Branch on allegations its doctors improperly diagnosed his cancer.

Robert William Jefferson, a prisoner at the Darington Unit in Rosharon, alleges doctors lied when they told him a tumor on his right kidney was to blame for his urinary problems and he required immediate surgery, court documents say.

He also believes the 120-year-old medical institution deliberately kept him in the dark about the true nature of his illness.

Jefferson filed the lawsuit on Aug. 8 before the 122nd District Court. He is representing himself in the case.

Four physicians – Drs. Eduardo Orihuela, William Alex Elfarr, Joanna Lucja Borkowski, and Alexander Brian West – are named co-defendants.

According to the original complaint, in June 1998 Jefferson began experiencing bleeding when he urinated. A year later, he was admitted into UTMB's Radiology Department and subjected to a mandatory MRI/CAT scan.

"After the June 23, 1998, MRI, defendant Dr. Eduardo Orihuela informed the plaintiff that the MRI showed a small mass on the plaintiff's right kidney and that he (Dr. Orihuela) had diagnosed this small mass as being right call carcinoma, but the alleged tumor was benign," the complaint says.

Jefferson claims Orihuela told him the tumor would require surgery. The inmate had the surgery two months later in which his right kidney and one of his ribs were removed and taken to the Pathology Department.

Physicians in the Pathology Department said the specimen "was incomplete with tissue missing" and the tumor in question was located in the plaintiff's pelvis, not his kidney, the suit says.

It alleges the findings differ from those who performed the operation, raising red flags.

What followed, it further explains, were unsuccessful efforts by Jefferson to obtain documentation on the surgery. He recently wrote a letter to the Medical Records Department, but received no response.

All the while, Jefferson claims he has gone through "pain, humiliation, extreme emotional distress, psychological and post-traumatic stress," according to the original petition.

He seeks a jury trial in addition to compensatory and exemplary damages.

Judge John Ellisor is presiding over the case.

Case No. 08CV0851

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