Dump bad doctor, angry women urge

"Patients have to put enormous trust into their physicians, and when they find out in retrospect that the trust has been betrayed, it not only affects their relationship with that doctor but it undermines their confidence with the entire medical system."…

The Toronto Star
December 15, 2003

Dump bad doctor, angry women urge
Obstetrician ruled incompetent College to decide on pulling licence
Harold Levy

Christine Williams and other former patients of Whitby obstetrician Dr. Errol Wai-Ping have a blunt message for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

"We are counting on the college to revoke his licence," said the 47-year-old Williams, referring to Wai-Ping's penalty hearing at the college today. "Nothing less will do."

The college's discipline committee will listen to victim impact statements this week before deciding on Wai-Ping's professional future.

The obstetrician, judged incompetent by a college disciplinary panel last month, has left a legacy of broken dreams and damaged bodies after dozens of women suffered or were permanently injured from his medical and surgical care.

A 42-page statement of facts, not contested by Wai-Ping, described him as a doctor who had poor medical judgment and who rushed women into surgery before trying other forms of treatment.

Some were in their 20s and 30s when he performed risky hysterectomies, denying them any chance of having families.

Wai-Ping is fighting to keep his licence, partially on the grounds that he can be retrained.

His lawyer, Mary Thomson, told the college recently that revoking his licence would be a "professional death sentence" for the 49-year-old specialist.

"It brings his career essentially to an end, and it deprives him of his livelihood, as well," she said.

The college made its decision based on the case histories of 47 patients who were examined by a panel of experts, although 100 women had filed complaints with the college. The records showed a long string of botched and unnecessary hysterectomies and other surgeries going back 10 years.

He also misinterpreted ultrasound findings, removed ovaries unnecessarily, performed deliveries without adequate pain medication, induced labour for unclear reasons, failed to administer antibiotics before or during operations, and had a high complication rate that included bladder tears, serious infections and the need for blood transfusions.

One case involved a 52-year-old Pickering woman who had complained that Wai-Ping failed to diagnose her cancer. She died in May, 2001, at Princess Margaret Hospital.

Williams saw Wai-Ping in 1999 for excessive vaginal bleeding and said he subsequently performed a vaginal hysterectomy. During the operation, she hemorrhaged and needed multiple transfusions.

She spent 14 days in hospital for an operation he told her would require a two- to three-day stay. She also needed a month of home care after her wound became badly infected.

She said his former patients would be "outraged" if he were allowed to continue practising, "because of the horror of even one more woman going through what we did."

Evidence at the disciplinary hearing showed Wai-Ping, who worked at the Ajax hospital site of the Rouge Valley Health System, had a complication rate at least 20 times the provincial average.

Some of the cases reviewed:

*He told a woman she had a 7-centimetre ovarian cyst when the pathology report stated that she had a 7-centimetre ovary. The woman underwent four surgeries, including a hysterectomy at age 28, when she had recently been trying to conceive. In other cases, he misinterpreted normal ultrasounds and unnecessarily removed women's ovaries.

  • He performed an abdominal hysterectomy on a 34-year-old woman, but only small fibroids (non-cancerous tumours in the uterus) were found.
  • A 35-year-old woman "was (surgically) castrated without adequate consideration of conservative measures," then had to have a plastic surgeon do corrective surgery.
  • Another woman, in 1994, said Wai-Ping led her to believe a hysterectomy was the only choice to stop painful and heavy menstrual periods. Other women also said they felt they were given no option other than a hysterectomy.
  • A 31-year-old woman had her labour induced in what experts called a "social induction," meaning it was done for Wai-Ping's convenience.
  • Following the "inappropriate removal" of a woman's uterus at age 24, Wai-Ping "set the stage for subsequent ovarian surgeries" to the point where she was surgically castrated by age 30.
  • A woman who complained of painful intercourse following surgery said Wai-Ping told her: "You should lie back and think of your husband's needs."

Mary Thomson, Wai-Ping's lawyer, has tried to minimize the extent of Wai-Ping's medical mishaps by suggesting to Dr. David Rouselle, one of the college's experts, that these are only 47 out of thousands of women on whom he operated over the years.

But Paul Harte, a lawyer seeking class-action status for a lawsuit he launched against Wai-Ping that has been joined by 375 women, says he has done too much serious harm.

None of the allegations has been proved in court.

"These are women who have been castrated unnecessarily, and some have had as many as four completely unnecessary surgeries," he said.

"Compounding that is the shock of learning, after the fact, that all of that was completely unnecessary. Not only did they have physical injuries, but they are going to have long-lasting psychological injury, as well."

Karen Escobar, a former patient who almost died from loss of blood following a hysterectomy in 2000, said she is angry her life was almost taken from her due to "incompetence," and feels betrayed by a system that knew of Wai-Ping's problems.

Robin Heaton, now 33, who underwent four surgeries, including a hysterectomy when she was trying to conceive, said she was devastated to learn they were unnecessary.

She said Wai-Ping told her she would die without a hysterectomy.

"Errol Wai-Ping took part of me that day," she said. "He took my hopes and my dreams, and for what? I will never understand why he did this to me and my family."

The college must revoke his licence so he can't hurt anyone else, she added.

"We are not just words on a paper; we are real, our words are real, and what he has done to us is real."

Harte says Wai-Ping has left a legacy of distrust in doctors and in Ontario's medical profession.

"Patients have to put enormous trust into their physicians, and when they find out in retrospect that the trust has been betrayed, it not only affects their relationship with that doctor but it undermines their confidence with the entire medical system."

Thomson, Wai-Ping's lawyer, has argued his failures were almost entirely limited to surgery, and since there was no intention of harm he should be allowed to retrain in obstetrics and gynecology and work under supervision.

She has also suggested that Wai-Ping, currently restricted from performing any surgery, be permitted to work in other areas such as geriatrics, pathology or family planning.

Rouselle, however, says Wai-Ping could pose a risk to his patients in a geriatric practice because, "in geriatrics, you can misdiagnose a chest cold and it turns out to be congestive heart failure."

In pathology, "you can misdiagnose a tumour, call it benign and somebody can die," he said.

Rouselle expressed concern whether "problems of judgment" would "spill over" into even a walk-in clinic.

Harte bristles at Thomson's argument that the college should not impose a "professional death sentence" on Wai-Ping.

"The practice of medicine in the province of Ontario is a privilege, and it is a privilege which comes with tremendous obligations," he said.

"These are obligations which this doctor has not fulfilled."


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