Jury Faults Doctors In Delay Of Diagnosis

Jury Faults Doctors In Delay Of Diagnosis
JOSHUA B. GOOD

09/24/2002
The Tampa Tribune

BREAST CANCER KILLED 30-YEAR-OLD MOTHER

TAMPA - A Hillsborough County jury awarded a widower $2.5 million because his 30-year-old wife's three doctors delayed diagnosing her breast cancer.

Xavier Cannella, a Tampa surgeon, plans to appeal. The other defendants, Tampa gynecologists Michael Morris and Caryn Bray, agreed not to appeal under a confidential agreement reached before the jury's verdict.

In August 1999, Jennifer Mitchell, 29, found a lump the size of a grape in her right breast. She was nursing her baby, Morgan, and thought it might be related to the breast-feeding, said her husband, Louis Mitchell.

Her doctors gave her three different prescriptions for antibiotics and told her it was an infection, Louis Mitchell said. But it wasn't. it was breast cancer.

It took three months before anyone told her.

"All they had to do was say the word "cancer,' and they didn't do it," said Louis Mitchell.

The lump grew to the size of a baseball. Cancer spread to her brain, chest and left breast, Henry Valenzuela, Mitchell's lawyer, said.

If her doctors had done the proper tests and diagnosed the cancer quickly, her chance of survival would have been 70 percent, Valenzuela said. The delay brought her survival chances down to 30 percent, he said.

A year of chemotherapy drained the life from Jennifer Mitchell, a kindergarten teacher at Pizzo Elementary School near the University of South Florida. In addition to her students, she also mentored USF student teachers.

She died Nov. 9, 2000. Louis Mitchell sued shortly after.

It took nearly two years for the case to go to trial. Jurors heard a month of testimony, including seeing a picture of 3-year- old Morgan at her mother's grave, said Ronald Josepher, the attorney for Cannella.

On Friday, jurors reached a verdict. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Claudia Isom asked the jurors to give a percentage to everyone's negligence in the case. Jurors laid 66 percent of the blame on Cannella, the surgeon. Bray and Morris shared 14 percent of the blame each, and Jennifer Mitchell was given 6 percent of the blame.

Louis Mitchell, 35, is a law enforcement officer in Hillsborough County. He is raising Morgan by himself.

He said he hopes other young couples learn from his wife's death. Take any breast lump seriously, demand quick action from a doctor and make doctors explain everything in layman's terms, he said.

He said he doesn't want the doctors put out of business.

"I want them to learn from this and be better doctors," he said Monday.

Josepher maintains Cannella is not responsible. He has asked Isom for a new trial.