In my previous post on this subject, I discussed how a dedicated Boston anesthesiologist by the name of Amy Reed, a wife and mother of six, died due to uterine cancer spread by a medical device known as a power morcellator. These new surgical devices were thought to offer a superior method over conventional surgery, in removing uterine and ovarian cysts. The medical term for such procedures is laparoscopic uterine hysterectomy and myomectomy.
Tragically, power morcellation, as it came to be known, wasn’t a superior method to treat these conditions.
Instead, what the device did was spread the pulverized tissue throughout the abdomen – much like a dental drill sends pulverized tooth enamel throughout the mouth. Except that pulverized tooth enamel doesn’t contain cancer cells that can spread through the mouth and throat. In Dr. Amy Reed’s case and in many other patients cases, the pulverized tissue that was morcellated, scattered microscopic cancer cells that were inside that morcellated tissue, throughout the surrounding healthy tissue and organs. That is how Amy Reed’s stage 1, highly treatable cancer raged into a stage 4 fatal outcome. The process basically sprayed cancer cells that were contained within a cyst, throughout her abdomen, effectively ‘seeding’ the cancer cells into healthy tissue.
This happened in 2013. Dr. Reed and her husband Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, who once lived in Needham, moved back to Pennsylvania in 2014 and sued Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and the device’s manufacturer, for allowing this defective medical product to be used. That suit remains ongoing. From Pennsylvania, the couple decided to devote Amy’s remaining time to waging a public fight to abolish power morcellation, which at the time was routinely used to treat tens of thousands of uterine fibroid and ovarian cysts cases every year.
As anyone would expect when taking on powerful corporate interests such as medical device manufacturers and major hospitals, it was a tough battle. Both Drs. Reed and Noorchashm lobbied individual members of Congress and federal bureaucrats – no easy task, I can assure you, as I have done this myself many times. They took on powerful financial interests, and in the process even endured personal and professional attacks on their names and reputations. A medical colleague of theirs very accurately characterized the target of their campaign as the “medical-industrial complex,” and as a Boston defective surgical products attorney who has seen many of these cases, I can assure you, that is a very accurate characterization. Whether the case involves defective medical devices (and thus becomes a surgical product liability case) or involves Massachusetts medical malpractice claims, these cases always involve extremely difficult, lengthy, and costly litigation. The costs aren’t just financial – they are psychological, emotional, personal and professional, as well.
Even from Amy Reed’s deathbed, the two fought a national campaign to turn the medical community aware from power morcellation. The same medical colleague referenced above also said of them “As a couple, they were unbelievable.”
Their hard work paid off: Late in 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against the use of power morcellators, and Johnson & Johnson, the nation’s largest manufacturer of power morcellators, pulled their products off the market. Some small companies still continue to manufacture the device, and – in what I believe is a stunning example of the “medical-industrial complex,” the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ most recent statement on morcellation claims that the device can be safely used in cases in which no cancer is present. Uh-huh. Despite this corporate spin, we can be thankful that the device is now very rarely used.
Part of Dr. Reed’s and Dr. Noorchashm’s work involved raising funds for the National LeioMyoSarcoma Foundation. Maybe that leaf that fell to earth a few days ago, will cause a strong tree to grow in its place, sheltering future, needless victims of defective medical products and surgical negligence. Let us all hope that is so.