Victoria woman wins suit against doctor (video)
Herlinda Garcia spent two years thinking she was on her death bed until a Houston specialist told her otherwise.
A Victoria doctor diagnosed her in 2009 with Stage IV terminal breast cancer even though she didn't have a trace of the disease inside of her.
After the terminal diagnosis, she wrote a bucket list, gave away her keepsakes and planned her funeral.
Garcia, now 54, last week won a medical malpractice lawsuit against that doctor, the late Ahmad I. Qadri. A Victoria County jury found the oncologist was negligent and awarded her $367,500 in damages from his estate.
Judge Skipper Koetter of the 267th District Court is expected to lower that amount in accordance with Texas law when he files a formal judgment in the coming weeks.
Texas law limits liability to $250,000 per claim, according to the civil practice and remedies code.
Garcia, a longtime Victoria resident, had cancer scare once - about a month before she was referred to Qadri.
Her past doctors surgically removed a benign tumor from her left breast.
Qadri misread a PET/CT scan during one of their first visits, she said.
He thought he spotted enlarged lymph nodes behind her sternum, but it was actually an inflammation of her organs called sarcoids.
Qadri did not order a biopsy and prescribed eight rounds of chemotherapy, Garcia said.
"Maybe he was so busy he missed it," Garcia said last week, noting she should have been given the biopsy option.
She recalled how the chemotherapy treatment center next to DeTar Hospital was lined with recliners outfitted with IVs that were always full.
"Sometimes, that one piece of paper that is overlooked could cause someone a lot of pain," she said.
Pain was a constant companion for her; her husband, Adam Molina, 50; and their four sons.
During her treatment, she was taking at least 10 different medications that made her nauseated and weak.
Her once beautiful, black hair that flowed down her back was replaced with a head scarf. She did not want to wear a wig outside the house.
"Most of the time, I was just locked in my room," Garcia said. "I felt like everyone was staring at me when they probably weren't."
But things began to change in 2011 when she was admitted to Citizens Medical Center for treatment of anxiety.
Doctors there took some scans then because she was a cancer patient, and a doctor suspected she did not have cancer, she said.
Later that same year, she learned she did not have cancer. The news came after she underwent a myriad of tests, including a biopsy, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
She met the news with a whirlwind of emotions including happiness, confusion and anger.
The illness - or rather lack thereof - cost her her job, her health insurance and eventually drained the family's bank accounts, but she is adamant that is not why she took Qadri to court.
She wanted to raise awareness, especially because Victoria is a close-knit community hesitant to speak up about negligence.
"I don't hate him. I just feel that he made a mistake," she said, arms neatly folded in her lap.
Prosecuting medical malpractice is often difficult because juries generally give doctors the benefit of the doubt, said Garcia's attorney, Robert Sigler of the Bandas Law firm in Corpus Christi.
Sigler argued at trial that while it is a normal for doctors to prescribe patients chemotherapy after a mastectomy to completely ensure the cancer will not reoccur, Garcia should have had the choice to opt out. She thought the situation was dire, he said.
Qadri's attorney, William A. Abernethy, also of Corpus Christi, will not appeal the decision.
Qadri was beloved by his patients, and he was very troubled by Garcia's accusations, Abernethy said.
"It was very difficult to defend the doctor since he is dead, to really tell his story," Abernethy said.
Abernethy had only one piece of evidence - a video deposition taken before Qadri died of a heart attack March 16.
Radiologists helped Qadri decipher the scans, Abernethy said.
"He (Qadri) agreed that he should have in retrospect ordered a biopsy," Abernethy said. "One thing I would say is that we are very sorry about Mrs. Garcia's situation, about the misdiagnosis, and wish her well."
This was Qadri's first lawsuit, he said.
Garcia, meanwhile, is trying to rebuild a life. She strongly urges everyone to get a regular mammogram as well as review each medical record carefully, not just put blind trust in anyone.
She thinks she'll enroll in college and become a counselor to help those struggling with illness and the subsequent depression.
"I'm making the most out of every day," Garcia said. "If I could help one person smile and feel good, it would be worth it."