(Read my response only after you’ve read at least the FIRST page of the article) Here’s an abridged version:
A New York City hospital treating [Scott Jerome-Parks] for tongue cancer failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with errant beams of radiation. Not once, but on three consecutive days.
Soon after the accident, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, state health officials cautioned hospitals to be extra careful with linear accelerators, machines that generate beams of high-energy radiation. But, on the day of the warning, at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, a 32-year-old breast cancer patient named Alexandra Jn-Charles absorbed the first of 27 days of radiation overdoses, each three times the prescribed amount. A linear accelerator with a missing filter would burn a hole in her chest, leaving a gaping wound so painful that this mother of two young children considered suicide.
Ms. Jn-Charles and Mr. Jerome-Parks died a month apart. Both experienced the wonders and the brutality of radiation. It helped diagnose and treat their disease. It also inflicted unspeakable pain.
While Mr. Jerome-Parks had hoped that others might learn from his misfortune, the details of his case — and Ms. Jn-Charles’s — have until now been shielded from public view by the government, doctors and the hospital. […]
In June, The Times reported that a Philadelphia hospital gave the wrong radiation dose to more than 90 patients with prostate cancer — and then kept quiet about it. In 2005, a Florida hospital disclosed that 77 brain cancer patients had received 50 percent more radiation than prescribed because one of the most powerful — and supposedly precise — linear accelerators had been programmed incorrectly for nearly a year. […]
[New York State] records described 621 mistakes from 2001 to 2008…The Times found that on 133 occasions, devices used to shape or modulate radiation beams …were left out, wrongly positioned or otherwise misused.
On 284 occasions, radiation missed all or part of its intended target or treated the wrong body part entirely. In one case, radioactive seeds intended for a man’s cancerous prostate were instead implanted in the base of his penis. Another patient with stomach cancer was treated for prostate cancer. Fifty patients received radiation intended for someone else, including one brain cancer patient who received radiation intended for breast cancer.
New York health officials became so alarmed about mistakes and the underreporting of accidents that they issued a special alert in December 2004, asking hospitals to be more vigilant.
[However, the mistake documented in this story occurred one year later.]