Suit filed in Missouri excess radiation case

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An Arkansas widower has filed a class action lawsuit against Lester E. Cox Medical Centers in the case involving the overradiation of 76 patients with brain cancer at CoxHealth of Springfield, Mo.

According to the suit, filed in the circuit court of Greene County in Missouri, Anthony Zilius’ wife, Diane, was one of the patients who was exposed to an excessive amount of radiation while receiving treatment from the hospital’s BrainLab's stereotactic radiation therapy system. Late last month, the hospital announced that between 2004 and 2009 it had overradiated the 76 patients because of an error in the calibration of the BrainLab system.

The suit states that Zilius underwent the stereotactic radiation therapy treatment on April 11, 2009 and, due to the radiation overexposure, suffered “acute brain damage,” which required her to undergo brain surgery on January 5, 2009. She died Aug. 8 of last year.

According to the suit, the “negligence of the defendants” caused—or contributed—to Zilius suffering from severe, permanent and progressive injuries, including:

  • Partial brain death due to the overradiation;
  • Severe “pain and suffering” from the surgeries, procedures and therapies that followed,  “all of which would not have been necessary given proper calibration of the BrainLab system;” and
  • An “untimely and agonizing death.”

Zilius, through his attorneys, Frank Bailey of Mountain Home, Ark., and Christopher A. Wright of St. Louis, alleges that CoxHealth was negligent by:

  • Failing to adequately calibrate its BrainLab system—and verify that calibration;
  • Inadequately reviewing Diane Zilius’ medical information;
  • Neglecting to supervise employees to ensure its radiation physicist(s) was adequately trained;
  • Failing to have adequate policies and procedures in place concerning calibration of the BrainLab system; and
  • Failing to properly “coordinate and oversee” Zilius’ healthcare.

According to John Duff, MD, senior vice president of hospital operations at CoxHealth, the calibration error occurred when the physicist responsible for measuring the strength of the BrainLab radiation beam and gather the data used to calibrate the equipment, chose the wrong measuring device.

That physicist is no longer with the hospital, and, according to Duff, it was only when a different physicist received training on the system that the calibration error was discovered. The hospital suspended the BrainLab program and in February began notifying patients of the calibration error.

According to Anthony Zilius’ attorneys, he received a letter from CoxHealth Feb. 24 notifying him that because of the calibrating error his wife had received a higher dose of radiation than was prescribed. “This is the first Mr. Zilius knew of the overradiation,” the attorneys said, “even though his wife had lost the use of the right side of her body after the radiation treatment on April 11, 2008 and underwent brain surgery in January 2009 to remove brain cells that had died.”