Critic of Endoscopy Center dies after colon cancer fight

Kevin Rexford was one of the most public faces and vocal critics of what happened at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, the center of the hepatitis C outbreak that officials would eventually link to nine contracted cases.

Rexford, a pharmacist, died Sunday at the age of 47 after a lengthy battle with colon cancer.

Rexford alleged in a lawsuit his cancer was missed because of a rushed colonoscopy by Dr. Clifford Carrol, who practiced out of the Endoscopy Center, which has since been shut down amid numerous investigations.

Rexford and Carrol reached a $2 million settlement after Rexford charged his disease was missed during an exam that lasted only three minutes, instead of the recommended six to eight minutes.

Former health care professionals at the clinic, owned by Dr. Dipak Desai, told the Review-Journal that hasty colonoscopies were done to enhance profits.

"He put up one heckuva fight," Rexford’s widow, Julie, said Tuesday. "He spent as much time as he could with me and our daughters to the very end. And he did all he could to make sure that no one else had to go through what he did."

Kevin Rexford told the Review-Journal in interviews that concerns about Desai’s clinics shouldn’t be limited to those patients who were urged by health officials to get tested for hepatitis and HIV.

"People who got a clean bill of health there in regard to cancer should get tested again," he said.

According to medical experts hired to review Rexford’s legal case, Rexford would have had better than an 80 percent chance of survival after five years if his cancer had been caught during his colonoscopy in January 2005. Detected nearly a year later, his chances diminished to 10 percent, the experts said.

Dan Carvalho, Rexford’s attorney in the malpractice case, said Rexford’s desire to urge people to get retested for colon cancer if they had gone to Desai’s clinic couldn’t have been more genuine.

"He really cared about lessening people’s pain," he said.

By 2008, Rexford had already lived longer than his physicians had predicted. But his colon cancer had metastasized to his liver and abdominal wall. This summer, Rexford’s health took a huge turn for the worse.

"He was hospitalized five times this past summer," Julie Rexford said. "It was very tough. He spent the last couple of days in (Nathan Adelson) Hospice."

While her husband was hospitalized at Southern Hills Hospital, she said she frequently saw Carrol making rounds.

"That was very difficult for me," she said. "I was very disheartened to see him."

Rexford had said it would have meant something to him had Carrol apologized. Carrol last year told the Review-Journal that Rexford "never came back to the office."

Carrol faces a hearing before the state Board of Medical Examiners this fall for his role in the hepatitis outbreak. A malpractice complaint lodged by Rexford with the board remains under investigation, according to Louis Ling, executive director.

Carrol had testified in a deposition that Rexford might have contracted his cancer after the exam. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Services for Rexford will be held 4 p.m. Friday at Palm Mortuary, 7600 S. Eastern Ave.

Despite Rexford’s condition, his wife said he remained president of the Desert Riders motorcycle club of Nevada.

"Who would ever think a guy with stage 4 cancer would be riding a motorcycle and going skiing?" she said. "He was an inspiration to everybody."

Motorcycle club member Scott Beesley said he will miss Rexford "leading groups of motorcyclists to explore many of the highways and byways around our great state."

He also said he prayed that word of Rexford’s death "will help prevent someone else from becoming a victim of assembly line medicine."

Last year, Rexford said his biggest concern about dying was not being able to see his daughters, Alexa, 14, and Hannah, 13, grow up.

"He made sure he had fun with them in the time he had left," his wife said. After his diagnosis, the family traveled to Hawaii and the Caribbean and went on an Alaska cruise.

Julie Rexford said her husband, though he often was too ill to eat, went to work at the Assist Care Pharmacy he founded 10 years ago. The pharmacy provided medications to nursing and group homes. What he began by himself now has 15 employees.

"He was so proud that it turned into a success," she said.

She said her husband did not grow bitter.

"He accepted the crummy hand that was dealt him," she said. "His attitude was live life to the fullest, no matter what."

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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