January 28, 2009 - 10:00 pm
Elisa Sanchez knew something was wrong.
In 2004, the 24-year-old mother found blood in her stool and kept having pain when she went to the bathroom. When she went to local doctor Steven Lampinen, she was repeatedly told that she was merely suffering from hemorrhoids.
Seven months after she visited the doctor, Sanchez was rushed to University Medical Center’s emergency room because of major pain. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer. She died in 2007 at the age of 27.
Last week, a Clark County District Court jury awarded her family $2.5 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The suit contended that Lampinen and Brian Bishop, a nurse at the family practice, were negligent and didn’t examine her properly. It’s thought to be the largest medical malpractice verdict in District Court since 2004.
The jury determined that Lampinen was mostly responsible for the negligence that contributed to Sanchez’s death and that he "fell below the standard of care," according to the verdict.
If she’d been properly diagnosed when she first visited Lampinen, her chances of surviving the cancer would have been 97 percent, said Steven Karen, one of the family’s attorneys. Her chances dropped to 50 percent by the time she was diagnosed in December 2004.
Karen said Sanchez likely would be alive today if doctors had diagnosed her cancer earlier. Before she died, Sanchez went through chemotherapy and major surgery, including the removal of her uterus and part of her lower intestines, said Clark Seegmiller, another attorney for the family.
Sanchez’s husband and 5-year-old daughter live in New Mexico. Although they declined to comment, Karen said they didn’t sue solely for money.
"It was never about money for them," he said. "It was about honoring the loss."
Lampinen did not return calls seeking comment and his attorneys weren’t available. Lampinen continues to practice in Nevada.
Nevada caps malpractice lawsuit awards at $350,000 for pain and suffering. In this case, the jury awarded at least $2 million in "economic losses," or future lost wages. Sanchez worked in retail.
Sanchez went to Lampinen in April 2004, after she was diagnosed with colitis at a UMC Quick Care and told to follow up with her primary care physician. He diagnosed her as suffering from diarrhea and other bowel problems and prescribed a laxative, the lawsuit states. He didn’t conduct a rectal exam or schedule a follow-up visit, the lawsuit alleges.
She next visited Lampinen’s practice four months later complaining of constipation, pain and difficulty sitting. At that time, Bishop examined her and believed she was suffering from internal hemorrhoids, according to an expert hired by Lampinen’s attorneys. Bishop treated her with an enema.
Sanchez returned twice to Lampinen’s office but was told that she was suffering from hemorrhoids, the lawsuit states. Lampinen’s medical expert said the doctor referred her to a specialist. Karen disputes that.
In mid-November, Sanchez was in pain and went to UMC’s emergency room. A colonoscopy performed a month later found a cancerous tumor. Although the tumor was removed, the cancer returned and spread throughout her body.
Contact reporter David Kihara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.