Patients accuse Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of not disclosing radiation overdose

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Larry Biggles is among the emergency-care patients who received a follow-up call from Cedars hospital officials, but say the word 'radiation' never came up.

Larry Biggle was working his graveyard shift as a messenger dispatcher in West Los Angeles when he suddenly felt the symptoms of a stroke: dizziness, uncoordinated movements, and slurred speech. The tall stocky man had been fighting high cholesterol, so he studied up on what could happen.

He called his wife to tell her he was going to the emergency room. His boss rushed him to nearby Cedars Hospital.

"They gave me excellent treatment," says Larry Biggles. “Gentle. Calm. They informed me of what to expect during the procedure – except he left out the part like, ‘Hi, we’re gonna overdose you with radiation!'”

Hospital officials say a computer glitch overdosed hundreds of patients – 206 people over a year and a half, including 51-year-old Larry Biggles.

Biggles says his hair fell out and left a bald circle on top of his head. He says he mentioned it to
Dr. Barry Pressman when the imaging department head called him in Sept. 2009 to follow up on that ER visit a year earlier.

“He did say that your hair loss is more than likely due to the CT Scan. He never indicated the word 'radiation,'” says Biggles.

In a written statement, Cedars-Sinai says that “all the patients had been contacted in the interest of keeping them informed.” But Biggles says that’s not the phone call he received.

"Whenever there’s a problem," says health care expert and consumer watchdog, Jamie Court, "Patients should be entitled to full information.”

Court says if Cedars isn’t telling each patient all the facts, it’s probably because hospital officials are worried about medical malpractice lawsuits.

“There’s some tough medical malpractice laws in this state. It’s very hard for people to bring these cases, particularly seniors," says Court. "It’s a very low risk even in this state, and yet, we’re not getting full disclosure. That’s a problem Cedars needs to deal with and I think it’s a problem state regulators need to step in and look at.”

It’s something Larry Biggles is looking at. He says he’s considering talking to an attorney, but for now he wants straight answers from Cedars-Sinai.

"Do I feel any different? No. Am I concerned? Yes!" says Biggles. "I’d like to see my son graduate from college and my grandkids go off to college.”

Biggles thinks back to watching his father die of cancer. He says he’s trying to avoid an illness like that. He’s been on a diet to bring down his high cholesterol. He says he’s ready to meet with hospital officials, so he can continue making informed decisions about his health.

He wants the facts about his case. “Gather us as a group and give us answers to each case – because it should be case by case!”

What about 206 cases – what about tracking radiation units in patient charts? Was it a certified technician who overlooked a problem? Biggles says he wants answers.

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