News / Calgary

Alberta medical testing issues likely widespread: Advocate

For more than a year, Leah Steele felt like someone had driven a knife into the small of her back.

The now-15-year-old Calgary teen recalls writhing on the floor in pain, waiting for a routine dose of painkillers to kick in.

“I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I would keep Motrin in my backpack at school and then make excuses to my teacher so I could go out and take some.”

Mother Sherry Steele spent months transporting her daughter to and from a full battery of tests — x-rays, MRIs and the like — before finally a doctor took on Leah’s case and discovered a five-inch tumour had wrapped itself around the young girl’s spine. Luckily, it was benign and Leah was quickly put under the knife for a four-hour surgery.

Rick Lundy with Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society said he’s frequently made aware of ordeals like Leah’s, leading him to suggest the recent findings of Alberta’s Health Quality Council are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Last week, the watchdog group released two reports after a probe was ordered by provincial Health Minister Fred Horne.

One found problems with 31 tissue specimens in the laboratory at Calgary’s Rockyview Hospital and the other revealed a pathologist at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital underreported or missed cancer altogether while evaluating 159 patient samples.

“When you look at the testing they’re doing, I have big concerns,” Lundy said, adding he is representing another woman who was wrongfully diagnosed with cancer and had her thyroid removed. “I think it’s likely there are more cases than the ones they know about.”

Leah’s mother, Sherry, has worked in medical clinics and witnessed firsthand struggles with reading x-rays and proper diagnosing.

“I think it comes down to us needing more resources and staff in our health-care system,” she said.

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