October 16, 2016 8:24 pm
Updated: October 17, 2016 11:46 am

Alleged missed diagnosis of cancer spurs WRHA investigation

Rachael Sawka (right) shows the remnants of surgery after a tumour was removed.

Mike Arsenault/Global News
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WARNING: the following contains graphic images and descriptions

WINNIPEG — When Rachael Sawka found a small bump on the back of her head, she didn’t think her life would soon be on the line.

After an alleged misdiagnosis, multiple surgeries and thousands of dollars spent in medical bills, that small bump that swelled into a large, cancerous tumour has the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority investigating.

Sawka, 23, alleges her doctor at Seven Oaks General Hospital diagnosed the bump as a cyst in January. Due to a waiting list, surgery to remove it would have to wait until April.

The alleged cyst had grown in size and constantly bled.


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Within weeks, Sawka knew something was deeply wrong, as the bump continued to swell and grow in size, eventually opening up as a wound that would bleed profusely. She visited the emergency room a number of times and made several appointments with her original physician.

“[The alleged cyst] came out of my head, it bled everyday. I had to get five blood transfusions. I don’t even know how I survived that experience,” Sawka said.

Yet still, doctors maintained that it was a cyst.

“I couldn’t lie down in my bed it hurt so much…I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 9 months,” Sawka explained.

During a February visit to Misericordia Health Centre, doctors had a written recommendation that a needle biopsy be performed – an operation that Sawka said never happened. Her family believes, had procedure been properly followed, a cancer diagnosis would have arrived months earlier.

Medical records show a biopsy was suggested months before cancer was discovered.

By the time she was able to get a surgical appointment in April, the alleged cyst measured six centimetres wide. But while she was on the operating room table, she was told the growth had become too large and was inoperable by a plastic surgeon.

“[The surgeon] cut me open and I’m on the table. And he said ‘it’s too big for me to remove.’ As I’m literally laying on the table,” Sawka recounted.

The next week, Sawka would learn the diagnosis that finally gave an explanation for her misery: that cyst was in reality, a tumour. Sawkwa had cancer.

“[The doctor] calls me and says ‘you have skin cancer’. Click. That was it, there was no ‘hey, do you want to come into the office?’ I feel as though that’s terrible bedside manner,” Sawka said.

But that diagnosis wasn’t correct either; other doctors and specialists determined Sawka has Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare kind of bone cancer. The tumour was eventually removed in May, followed by 25 rounds of radiation that burnt off all the skin on the back of her neck.

“I thought I was going to die, I’m not going to lie. That was pretty scary. The surgery, itself, I’ve never been through anything like that, ever.”

The WRHA responded to Global News requests for comment said it has started an investigation into the alleged misdiagnosis and said it has reached out to the Sawka family.

“We take all concerns and allegations made regarding care experienced within the WRHA seriously, and are in the process of reviewing this patient’s care,” the statement read.

The Sawka family said the healthcare system has failed them and worry that others will face the same concerns.

“Whether it’s better protocols when dealing with lumps and bumps – or anything else – they need to take it seriously,” Sawka said. She also recommends patients should advocate for their own health and concerns at all times.

Sawka’s long fight is not over yet; she is slated to begin six months of chemotherapy, beginning next week.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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