PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A cancer diagnosis can be devastating and launch a roller coaster of emotions. While we count on doctors for answers, sometimes the need for a second opinion is overlooked. This is a story about a life-changing medical mistake, and how it could have been prevented and why this family thought they had gotten a second opinion.
“I’m sad, I’m depressed,” Eric Spangs said. “I have an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness a lot the time.”
Spangs’ life fell apart after hearing words from doctors that everyone dreads. First, it was “you have cancer.”
“I thought ‘Oh my God,’ what am I going to do if I lose him, we have five children,” Eric’s wife, Melissa, said.
Then they heard “we made a mistake.”
But, instead of being relieved with the mistaken cancer diagnosis, the couple was crushed because Eric had already had his prostate removed.
“It’s devastated me emotionally and physically,” Eric said.
Before the surgery in January, Eric, who lives outside Reading, had everything to live for — a good job, a happy family, and a bright future.
“We’re 48 years old,” Melissa said as she became visibly upset.
Their odyssey started when Eric had a slightly elevated PSA level from a routine blood test that checks for prostate cancer. After that a series of other tests, including a biopsy.
“The error occurred in the preparation and reading of his biopsy. It was another patient’s biopsy that was put on those slides,” attorney Aaron Freiwald said.
Freiwald filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of the Spangs.
“This is the most egregious story I’ve ever heard,” Freiwald said.
Based on the alleged inaccurate biopsy, Eric had a radical laparoscopic prostatectomy, a surgery that was supposed to save his life.
“There’s always urinary leakage, there’s erectile dysfunction. They’ve taken away my ability to be a man, they’ve taken away my emotional stability,” Eric said.
CBS3 reached out to the organizations named in the lawsuit. Tower Health says it can’t comment on pending litigation. The Center for Urologic Care of Berks County did not return CBS3’s calls.
Most cancer surgeries are lifesaving and safe. So how could Eric’s situation have been prevented?
The American Cancer Society says second opinions from oncology specialists are a good idea.
Eric did get second opinions during this, but they were all from the same medical group, which doesn’t specialize in oncology.
“I had faith in the medical team, faith in medicine and I don’t understand how this happened,” Melissa said.
Now, they’re learning to live with disbelief and anger, feeling compelled to warn others.
“We just don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Melissa said. “Nobody should have to go through this.”
Eric and Melissa wonder and worry about the other patient who got Eric’s biopsy results. They say the doctor told them now he has to tell that guy that there was a mix-up and he has cancer.