We can still remember the first time we met Heather in our conference room. She was a prideful woman, and tried to hide her bald head underneath her cap. In the weeks before that meeting, Heather’s body had been bombarded with chemotherapy and radiation treatments that would weaken the spirit of most anybody. But Heather wasn’t just anybody; she was like a superwoman. Before meeting Heather, we knew how sick she was. We expected to see a sad, defeated person — instead, she greeted us with an enormous smile, and a hug. Heather was an extremely spiritual woman, full of faith and a tendency to forgive. She had been reluctant to seek out the assistance of a law firm, even though she knew deep down that someone, somewhere, had wronged her. It wasn’t until she realized that her treatments were failing, and she was soon going to lose this cancer battle that she knew she needed to speak with us. The thing I will remember most about Heather is that just like in the first moments we met her, she never stopped smiling during the year we represented her, and she never lost her faith, even up to the days before she lost her battle.
When Heather first learned of her Stage IV cancer diagnosis from her gynecologist, she wasn’t even phased. It must be a mistake, she thought, because she had been receiving annual mammograms for years. How could she possibly have advance stage cancer, which had metastasized to her bones, when she had had a “clean” mammogram only 13 months earlier? She reminded her doctor of that fact, but instead of answering her question, he told her he would go check, and left the exam room. Incredibly, her doctor never returned, and instead sent a nurse into the room to schedule a follow-up visit with an oncologist.
For months, nobody would give Heather answers about how her cancer got so bad so fast. Once it became clear her treatments were not proving effective, she came to us desperate to learn the truth, and we promised to get it for her. We ordered her records and mammogram images from years past. We sent her mammogram images to an extremely well-qualified and nationally-recognized radiologist who revealed the terrible truth: the mammogram from 13 months earlier showed clear evidence of a cancerous lesion/tumor that was missed by radiologist who interpreted the imaging. Had Heather’s cancer been diagnosed 13 months earlier, her likely survival rate would have been at least 75%. But because the tumor was allowed to grow unchecked and untreated for 13 months, her cancer was terminal by the time she was diagnosed, with a 0% chance of survival.
Heather cried when we told her the news—the only time I can recall the smiling ever absent from her face. Her fate had been sealed by a doctor’s failure to carefully read her mammogram. She told us she thought she was prepared to hear that news, but she wasn’t. One can only imagine the frustration of learning that you’re going to die — and leave behind a loving husband and young children — only because a doctor failed to do his job. We prosecuted Heather’s case for a year-and-a-half before the doctor’s insurance company told us they wanted to settle. The call came from the insurance company only a month before Heather’s case was scheduled to go to trial. We settled her case for a large sum — enough to take care of her husband and children, and the grandchildren she never got to meet.
Heather died three weeks after we settled her case. We saw her only days before she died, when she stopped in to pick up her settlement check. She hugged us and thanked us for holding her doctor accountable for his mistakes, and for giving her the peace of mind to know that her children would be okay. The smile never left Heather’s face in all the months we had the honor of representing her. She was one-of-a-kind, and we will never forget her, or the love she spread to all those who were lucky enough to know her.