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Kentucky woman, 59, with aggressive breast cancer sues hospital after worker sent her the WRONG letter saying she was in the clear and then 'covered it up by editing electronic records'

 A Kentucky woman is suing a hospital that she says sent her a letter mistakenly saying she was free of breast cancer - then tried to cover up the error.

Kim Johnson, 59, spent ten months believing she was cancer free after receiving the letter in 2015, before she got a second opinion that confirmed the aggressive cancer was still active. 

Her new doctors feared it might even be too late to save her before she started responding to treatment, NBC reported.

Johnson filed a lawsuit against Fleming County Hospital in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, in 2016 after she realized their mistake - and their alleged attempts to hide it. Despite evidence of the hospital's letter, she is still fighting five years later for justice.

The ordeal began in 2015 when Johnson found a lump in her right breast.  

Kim Johnson was nervous as she sat down at her dining room table in January 2015 with a letter from Fleming County Hospital in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. Breast cancer killed Johnson's mother years earlier and the prospect of that happening to her was all Johnson was able to think about after discovering a lump in her right breast, prompting her doctor to order a mammogram

Kim Johnson was nervous as she sat down at her dining room table in January 2015 with a letter from Fleming County Hospital in Flemingsburg, Kentucky. Breast cancer killed Johnson's mother years earlier and the prospect of that happening to her was all Johnson was able to think about after discovering a lump in her right breast, prompting her doctor to order a mammogram

A letter from Fleming County Hospital told Johnson - incorrectly - there was 'no evidence of cancer'

A letter from Fleming County Hospital told Johnson - incorrectly - there was 'no evidence of cancer'

Breast cancer killed Johnson's mother years earlier and the prospect of a similarly painful death happening to her was all Johnson was able to think about until her doctor ordered a mammogram. 

She was cleared, but as medical experts who reviewed her records later told her, there had been a terrible mistake. Johnson had a cancerous tumor growing inside of her.

Johnson was 53 at the time she ripped open an envelope from the hospital and saw four words in the first sentence of the letter that read, 'no evidence of cancer.'

'Oh my gosh,' Johnson remembers thinking. 'I dodged a bullet.'

Johnson, who ran a family farm with her husband in northeastern Kentucky, discovered the discrepancy 10 months later thanks to her insistence on seeking a second opinion after the pain in her breast worsened. 


Johnson, who described herself as 'not a suing person,' eventually filed a lawsuit because she wanted to know why her cancer wasn't caught earlier. 

Three years of litigation were required before Johnson, her lawyers and a digital forensics expert who reviewed her electronic patient records were able to piece together what they believe happened.

Andrew Garrett, the forensics expert, has worked on hundreds of malpractice cases for both patients and hospitals. He described cases like Johnson's as having a 'smoking gun' hidden in the records. 

Johnson, 59, spent 10 months believing she was cancer free after receiving the letter in 2015, before she got a second opinion confirming the aggressive cancer remained active

Johnson, 59, spent 10 months believing she was cancer free after receiving the letter in 2015, before she got a second opinion confirming the aggressive cancer remained active

The hospital acknowledged one discrepancy in Johnson's medical records but said it was the result of 'a clerical error' by an employee who confused Johnson and another patient with the same last name

The hospital acknowledged one discrepancy in Johnson's medical records but said it was the result of 'a clerical error' by an employee who confused Johnson and another patient with the same last name

Johnson's lawyers say two hospital employees opened her electronic records and edited them, deleting evidence of the erroneous letter claiming she was free of cancer

Johnson's lawyers say two hospital employees opened her electronic records and edited them, deleting evidence of the erroneous letter claiming she was free of cancer

Garrett's report, which was filed as part of Johnson's medical malpractice lawsuit, said that after Johnson's mammogram, a radiology technician named Barb Hafer left a comment in the medical record saying Johnson needed to return for a biopsy.

The code she entered in the dropdown menu, which dictates the notification letter automatically generated and mailed to the patient, was 'NEG,' for 'negative.' This explains why Johnson received the cancer-free letter, her attorneys said.

For nearly two years those notations remained in Johnson's medical record, Garrett's report said. But that changed after she filed her lawsuit in late 2016.

In a reaction to the lawsuit, two hospital employees opened her electronic records and edited them, deleting evidence of the erroneous letter claiming she was free of cancer, Johnson's lawyers said.

The hospital then created fake letters and produced them as part of the court case purporting to have directed Johnson to seek additional tests, Johnson alleges in court filings. 

Johnson and Fleming County Hospital reached a $1.25 million settlement in April 2018, enough to defray the significant cost of her ongoing cancer treatments

Johnson and Fleming County Hospital reached a $1.25 million settlement in April 2018, enough to defray the significant cost of her ongoing cancer treatments

When questioned under oath, the doctor who oversaw Johnson's medical care pointed to the newly generated letters as evidence Johnson was to blame for her own treatment delay, court records show.

A spokeswoman for LifePoint Health, the hospital chain that purchased Fleming County Hospital seven months after Johnson's mammogram in 2015, declined to comment to NBC, noting that Johnson's lawsuit is pending before the Kentucky Supreme Court. 

LifePoint Health, the hospital chain that purchased Fleming County Hospital seven months after Johnson's mammogram in 2015, was not part of an original settlement in the case that is still pending

LifePoint Health, the hospital chain that purchased Fleming County Hospital seven months after Johnson's mammogram in 2015, was not part of an original settlement in the case that is still pending

Johnson's lawyers and her family say they do not believe the hospital's explanations

Johnson's lawyers and her family say they do not believe the hospital's explanations

Lawyers for the hospital chain dismissed Johnson's allegations in legal filings and during court hearings as 'a conspiracy theory' that cannot be substantiated because the electronic records system the hospital used for mammograms at the time is now defunct and was prone to glitches.

The hospital acknowledged one discrepancy in Johnson's medical records but said it was the result of 'a clerical error' by an employee who confused Johnson and another patient with the same last name.

Johnson and Fleming County Hospital reached a $1.25 million settlement in April 2018, enough to defray the significant cost of her ongoing cancer treatments.

The hospital's new owner, LifePoint Health, was not part of the settlement. Johnson's case continued against Fleming County Hospital, now owned by the for-profit hospital chain, and other medical providers.

Johnson's lawyers and her family, including husband Delbert Johnson, said they do not believe the hospital's explanations.

'I tend to put my trust in doctors and professionals, the system even,' Delbert Johnson said. 'But they failed Kim and tried to hide it.'

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