A leaf from a beautiful tree fell to earth the other day. It made not much sound as it broke from its branch, nor much noise as it struck the ground. But if irony were sound instead of feeling, the noise would have been heard for thousands of miles. For the life of a gifted young physician, a person who dedicated her life to helping enhance the quality of others’ lives, ended entirely needlessly with the death of that leaf. And the irony that defined this loss, is that it was caused by a defective medical product; a product of her own profession.
Dr. Amy Reed’s last medical fight, waged on a broad scale to change how physicians treat the type of uterine cancer that she was being treated for, was won too late for her. But not too late for others facing similar types of cancer.
Dr. Reed died this past Wednesday at age 44 of leiomyosarcoma of the uterus. She didn’t have to die this way – and in fact, she didn’t have to die of this disease at all, had it not been for the way in which she was treated in 2013 for what was then believed to be a benign uterine cyst. Not long after delivering her sixth child, Dr. Reed underwent a surgical procedure to remove what was thought to be merely a cyst in her uterus. If the cyst had been removed in a conventional surgical manner, and after standard biopsy the cyst was determined to contain malignant cells, the cancer would have been treatable as a stage 1, highly treatable type of cancer – with a very successful prognosis. But something called “progress” entered this picture – her picture – in the form of a new medical device called a “power morcellator” – and it turned her highly curable, positive prognosis, into a lethal stage 4 case of uterine cancer, almost universally fatal.
What, exactly, is a power morcellator and what is power morcellation? A supposedly ‘new and better’ way to remove gynecological cysts and tissue growth. Tragically, for patients like Amy Reed and thousands of others, it was anything but ‘better.’ A power morcellator looks much like a power drill, with a long cannula or tube. At the end of the tube are small blades and wire filaments that spin around at high speed like a drill bit, pulverizing tissue that the spinning wires & blades come into contact with. This may sound strange, but a very non-medical analogy can be seen in a lawn edger or weed wacker, which spins a nylon filament at high speed at the end of a pole: Anything that comes into contact with the high-speed filament or blades, is pulverized.
Developed to treat cases of uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, the cannula is inserted laparoscopically through the abdominal wall, and with the aid of other laparoscopes utilized to position the device where it needs to be, the high-speed spinning wires and blades pulverize the tissue growth. This method of power morcellation was thought by the product’s inventors, to be a superior alternative to removing cysts and uterine/ovarian tissue growths, than conventional surgical removal of the growths with a scalpel.
As a Boston defective medical devices attorney, I’ve seen too many such products deliver very opposite results. I’ll discuss what happened in this case, in my next post.