A woman who had part of her jaw cut away after being wrongly
diagnosed with cancer of the mouth has received an apology
from the University of Otago Dental Hospital.
The surgeon who treated her says the misdiagnosis happened
after a laboratory worker at Medlab Dental, in Dunedin,
dropped two samples on the floor and mixed them up.
University pro-vice-chancellor health sciences and faculty of
medicine dean Prof Peter Crampton said the pathology
laboratory was part of the University of Otago Dental
"The patient was contacted very soon after the incident was
discovered, and we offered a full apology at that time," Prof
"We have taken this incident very seriously, and have already
taken all appropriate measures to minimise the likelihood of
any such incidents occurring again."
Last month, Southern Community Laboratories in Dunedin
apologised to an Otago woman who had a mastectomy by mistake
earlier this year, after her breast biopsy specimen was
swapped with another.
The switch resulted in a false clearance for the other Otago
In the latest case, Nelson oral surgeon Dr Iain Wilson said
his 63-year-old patient suffered facial swelling and sinus
infections after having a tooth implant last year.
Dr Wilson took an oral biopsy sample, which was sent to
Medlab Dental and tested for cancer.
The results were positive and the woman underwent a
hemimaxillectomy to remove the right side of her upper jaw.
Bone and blood vessels were taken from her lower leg and used
to reconstruct the woman's jaw, Dr Wilson said.
"Her donor wound site got infected and she had difficulty
walking," Dr Wilson said.
She was later told that tissue taken during the surgery
showed no sign of cancer and her initial specimens had been
swapped with another patient after the pathologist accidently
dropped her test pot.
"I am being asked to believe two samples were being processed
simultaneously and the pots were simultaneously dropped," Dr
"I can't for the life of me understand how you can get tissue
samples mixed up," he said. "I am astonished and horrified by
these lab mix-ups."
He said the case was before the Health and Disability
Commission and the patient had consulted a lawyer about
She was the sixth woman the Herald on Sunday had
discovered to be affected by errors made in pathology
laboratories since it started an investigation a month ago.
A senior pathologist said more mistakes were inevitable if
pathology processes and funding structures continued to lag
behind international standards.
Auckland senior surgical pathologist Tony Bierre claimed
cancer pathology was in a crisis and urgent action was needed
to prevent further errors which had life-changing
consequences for patients.
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said last week the
Government had extended its inquiry into botched biopsies to
cover all laboratory processes relating to biopsies.
The original inquiry followed revelations that at least three
women had breasts removed after wrong cancer diagnoses.
- Additional reporting Herald On Sunday