According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every nine American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. Due to advances in treatment, only one in 41 will die. The key is an early diagnosis. Michael E. Gunter, a Vietnam War veteran, was lucky to survive his bout with prostate cancer, but an earlier diagnosis could have saved him from a shortened life expectancy, permanent disfigurement, loss of normal life, not to mention the pain and suffering he experienced.
Gunter, now 69, first started getting screened for prostate cancer when he was 50. On April 29, 2009, Gunter switched his primary physician to Dr. Razia Sami, who immediately scheduled a prostate exam. After getting the results of the testing, Sami recorded abnormal results and recommended further testing. Five months later, Gunter scheduled an appointment with Dr. Kent Johnson, a urologist at the Marion VA Medical Center located in Marion, Illinois.
According to a medical malpractice lawsuit, filed on behalf of Gunter, Dr. Johnson believed that he “had a 42 percent chance of having prostate cancer.” But Johnson did not order a biopsy or a follow-up visit and he allegedly never mentioned to Gunter that he might be suffering from cancer. It was allegedly not until Gunter was transferred to Dr. Gerald L. Andriole at the Barnes Jewish Hospital at the end of 2012 that a biopsy was performed and cancer was found.
During the four-day bench trial in district court, Andriole testified that if a biopsy had been performed as early as 2009, “there is a good chance it would have shown cancer and it may have been smaller.” This would have made the operation less risky and may not have affected Gunter’s health as profoundly. Gunter told the court that the ordeal has caused him to suffer from erectile dysfunction and post-traumatic stress disorder. He also told the court that if Johnson had told him there was such a high chance of having cancer in 2009, he would have climbed on top of Dr. Johnson’s desk and screamed “what are we going to do about it?”
“Gunter’s testimony is credible,” wrote Judge Staci M. Yandle in her decision. “In light of the totality of the evidence in this case, the court finds it is highly unlikely that if Gunter was told he had a 42 percent chance of having prostate cancer, he would do nothing.”
Yandle awarded Gunter $1.93 million in damages on January 19, 2018. It is not yet clear whether the VA will appeal the ruling.