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Improperly Removed Lung Wins Jury Verdict Against Hospital Pathologist After Cancer Misdiagnosis

In Hartford on June 17, 2009, a Superior Court jury in Michael Santopietro vs. Elizabeth Lach-Pasko, M.D. awarded $1.56 million to the plaintiff, 67-year-old Canton resident Michael Santopietro, finding that Dr. Elizabeth Lach-Pasko, director of the Department of Pathology at Charlotte-Hungerford Hospital, was negligent in her pathology findings, misdiagnosing the plaintiff with cancer requiring immediate resection and removal of a lobe of his lung when there was actually no cancer present.

Santopietro had recently retired from his job driving a handicap van for children with special needs in 2005 when he underwent a needle aspiration (biopsy) of his lung, which was submitted to the Department of Pathology at Charlotte-Hungerford Hospital where Lach-Pasko was a staff pathologist and pathology department director. Lach-Pasko issued a report the same day stating that the specimen of Mr. Santopietro's lung was malignant and dangerously cancerous. Santopietro was immediately transferred to a cardiothoracic surgeon who quickly removed a portion of the left lung that Lach-Pasko had reported as cancerous.

While Santopietro was in recovery at Saint Francis Hospital after his surgery, their pathology department issued an updated report indicating that the lung specimen submitted from surgery showed "no evidence of malignancy." Upon reviewing the findings, Santopietro's primary care physician agreed: there was no tumor and no cancer. The amount of lung tissue removed was described during trial by Lach-Pasko's own colleagues as "nearly half the size of a tennis ball in surface area."

At trial, the jury listened to arguments posed by both sides for several weeks. It was determined that the plaintiff needlessly underwent a painful surgery and is now without a significant portion of a lung for no reason whatsoever. Charlotte-Hungerford Hospital had also refused to provide the lung tissue slides in question showing the misdiagnosis was withdrawn prior to trial. After the lung tissue was removed, Santopietro required constant supplemental oxygen and is now primarily confined to a wheelchair.

Santopietro was represented by Paul T. Edwards of Stratton Faxon Law Firm in New Haven, Connecticut.

By: Alexandra Reed