Lawsuit accuses University Hospitals of forcing mother to choose between life, baby

Woman wouldn't have gotten pregnant if cancer had been diagnosed, suit asserts

Vanessa Miller
Published: February 19 2013 | 5:30 pm - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 11:40 am in
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A Farmersburg woman is suing the state, as operator of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, for failing to diagnose her cancer before she became pregnant, forcing her to choose between her life and the life of her unborn child.

In a lawsuit filed this month in Johnson County District Court, Regina Cross states that in September 2010, she was referred by her family doctor to the UIHC’s Vulvar and Vaginal Disease Clinic for evaluation and removal of lesions.

A physician saw Cross on Nov. 23, 2010, said the lesions did not need to be removed and instead prescribed her medicine, according to the lawsuit. Cross continued visiting the UIHC until Jan. 4, 2011, when it became apparent she was not improving and the clinicians were not going to remove the lesions. She then scheduled an appointment with Gunderson Lutheran Medical Center in La Cross, Wis.

On April 1, Cross learned she was pregnant and due Oct. 20, 2011, according to the lawsuit. On April 26, 2011, she had a biopsy that showed the presence of cancerous cells, and further tests revealed she had a cancerous tumor.

“(Cross) was then faced with a very difficult decision – to abort her child, so that cancer treatment could go forward, or to allow the pregnancy to continue and defer cancer treatment,” according to the lawsuit.

Cross chose to keep her baby, and her son was born Sept. 8, 2011 by planned Caesarean section, according to the lawsuit. Cross then began cancer treatment, but in October 2012 doctors discovered her cancer had spread to her spine, and they determined the illness was terminal.

Martin Diaz, an Iowa City-based attorney representing Cross, said his client contends the UIHC failed to provide appropriate care, causing a delay in Cross’ diagnosis and treatment. Because the State of Iowa is liable for the negligence of UIHC personnel, he said, Cross in November filed a claim with the State Appeal Board, as required by law.

Typically, Diaz said, it can take six months to hear back from the appeal board, which must deny a claim before a person can file a civil lawsuit, according to state law. But, Diaz said, he asked the state to expedite the claim due to his client’s condition, and the board denied payments of the woman’s claims on Feb. 4.

On Feb. 6, Cross sued the state for damages she suffered, including “loss of a chance for a better outcome,” and for damages to her four children, including loss of companionship from their mother, according to the lawsuit.

“We wouldn’t be bringing this if we didn’t think there was a reasonable chance at success,” Diaz said. “We believe, had the UI correctly diagnosed her, she would have been diagnosed before she got pregnant.”

Diaz said this is a tragic and unique case because Cross was faced with such a difficult decision.

“Every day, there are a lot of people who are heroes in different ways,” he said, adding that Cross displayed heroism in her decision to give her life for her child. “It’s a tough decision.”

Diaz said his client is arguing that an eight-month delay in treatment meant the different between her life and death.

“The question is whether or not she should have been placed in a spot where she would have gotten pregnant,” he said. “Had she been told, she would not have gotten pregnant.”

Diaz said his firm is working on getting Cross’ testimony preserved on videotape. Upon her death, an administrator will be appointed to bring the claim forward.

The goal of the suit, he said, is to make sure Cross' children are compensated for the loss in financial and emotional support they're expected to experience.

“We won’t be able to help Regina, but she has a number of kids here, and if we can help them, that’s a plus,” he said. “We won’t bring their mom back, but we can help them going forward.”

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