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How fortunate I was: “Man Has Prostate Removed After Mistaken Cancer Diagnosis.” No second opinion.

Dr. Sanjeev Bahri, M.D., UPMC

… I had four consults, with very good results

Over the years, I have written about my prostate cancer diagnosis, and how some outstanding physicians led to my cancer disappearing with proper treatment.

Granted, I had good health care because the agency that had turned me down for some preexisting condition was no longer allowed to do so because of the ACA, aka Obamacare.

However, I was so fortunate that I was allowed to do four consults with this. One of them was horrible, but the other three were great, starting with the original diagnosis.

A Philadelphia man who was quite younger than I was when he was diagnosed with the cancer was not as lucky. In fact, 48-year-old Eric Spangs had his life turned upside down with an incorrect diagnosis that should have been caught.

However, as some are now saying with any cancer, seeking a second opinion is always wise choice. I sought a second and third — and while I have some negative effects from the radiation, I made the right choice.

The horrible situation in Philadelphia

This is just so very sad,

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 told KYW-TV. “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.

“Man had prostate removed after mistaken cancer diagnosis,”

CBS News, September 22, 2021

How could this happen?

This kind of thing is excusable especially when you look at how this misdiagnosis took place,

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.

“Man had prostate removed after mistaken cancer diagnosis,”

CBS News, September 22, 2021

That is unthinkable, and even a lawsuit and a ton of money will not replace the damage that was done both physically and emotionally.

Three outstanding physicians

I was fortunate from the start, though I did not one bump in the road. First, my primary care physician, Dr. Michael Tatarko, who passed away a few years ago, told me that he was going to do a thorough look at my blood, which included a PSA.

When the test came back, it indicated that my Gleason score, used to detect prostate cancer, was about twice as high as it should be. I knew that that meant, and I started researching the possibility of my having cancer.

Had Dr. Tatarko simply relied on the digital test, it would have been useless since they never could find the cancer that way.

I was sent for a biopsy with a doctor who should not be practicing, but is no longer in Johnstown, and the Cliff Notes version is that they found cancer in one of the 12 quadrants that were tested.

That physician was a surgeon, and I only returned to him to find the results. I would not let him touch me.

So, I then went to UPMC in Pittsburgh to first see a surgeon, then to UPMC in Johnstown where I met Dr. David Stefanik, who was great, and then to UPMC Greensburg where I met Dr. Sanjeev Bahri. Both Dr. Stefanik and Dr. Bahri are radiation oncologists, and I ended up using both of them.

Dr. Stefanik presided over my treatments of external beam radiation, and Dr. Bahri over the insertion of pellets into the prostate. Between the two treatments, which cost almost $100,000, my cancer is gone for nine years. I knew from my research, which was extensive before I met with any of the physicians, that I had about a 99 percent chance of overcoming the disease, and with radiation, about a 95 percent chance.

This is not one that goes into remission technically. If they get it the first time, you are likely to have a good chance of overcoming the disease. There is a small likelihood that it could return in our later 80s, but I was willing to take that chance.

Dr. David Stefanik, M.D., UPMC, retired three years ago

No surgery for me

I did not want to take a chance on the surgery, like Eric Spangs did.

However, his error was trusting just one set of physicians. That is never a good idea with any kind of surgery or treatment.

Most of the time, however, patients tend to trust their physicians and to believe them.

In this case, it was very, very sad for Eric and his family.

Bios of two physicians

Dr. Sanjeev Bahri, M.D.

Sanjeev Bahri, MD, is the director of radiation oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at Arnold Palmer Pavilion at Mountain View Medical Park, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and assistant medical director of Clinical Pathways at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Dr. Bahri sees all radiation oncology cases with a special interest in head and neck malignancies and prostate brachytherapy including permanent seed implantations and temporary high-dose-rate implants.

David F. Stefanik, M.D.

Dr. Stefanik graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1977. Dr. Stefanik works in Johnstown, PA and specializes in Radiology. Dr. Stefanik is affiliated with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Education & Training

  • Georgetown University Hospital, Residency, Radiation Oncology, 1981 - 1985

  • McKeesport Hospital - UPMC Internship, Transitional Year, 1977 - 1978

  • University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Class of 1977

  • Dr. Stefanik retired in 2018

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