LIHUE — A North Shore urgent care clinic is being sued by a former patient for medical negligence.
In the lawsuit, Kauai resident Holly Lewis claims that a doctor and a nurse at Hale Lea Medicine and Urgent Care in Kilauea repeatedly ignored “serial evidence” of increasingly severe renal failure for over a year and a half, until her condition deteriorated to the point that one of her kidneys had to be surgically removed.
The civil complaint, filed Monday in Fifth Circuit Court, alleges that Lewis’ condition should have been detected back in February 2016, when Lewis, then 48, went to Hale Lea seeking treatment for a legion on her nose.
During that visit, Mary Cameron, a nurse at the clinic who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, ordered blood work to evaluate Lewis’ existing hypothyroidism, but failed to consult with a physician or attempt further treatment, despite noting an unusual result in the test that the lawsuit describes as “a red flag for kidney disease.”
According to the complaint, Lewis’ blood work contained other irregularities as well, showing elevated levels of several compounds in the blood commonly used by doctors as indicators of renal health, which “should have heightened the concern.”
Four months later, Lewis went back to the Hale Lea for a follow up. During the visit, the lawsuit says her primary care physician, Dr. Steven Rogoff, took notes that appear to show he was already beginning to question whether the blood work anomalies could be due to a chronic kidney condition.
He ordered another test that returned similar results, according to the compliant, but “despite serial evidence of significant kidney impairment, Dr. Rogoff did not order imaging of (Lewis’) kidneys, repeat blood work, or otherwise attempt to evaluate the cause of her persistent kidney dysfunction.”
The lawsuit describes a series of doctor visits Lewis made over the course of the following year, as she returned to Hale Lea repeatedly complaining of pain in her sides and lower back, prompting several more blood tests that consistently contained indicators of worsening renal failure.
She was treated for a urinary tract infection and told she might have irritable bowel syndrome, but after months of treatment and testing, “there was still no effort to investigate signs and symptoms that indicated a problem with (Lewis’) kidneys,” according to the lawsuit.
In August 2017, Lewis went to Hale Lea and saw Rogoff about “intermittent pain in her abdomen for the past three years,” the complaint says.
Just as he had done a year before, Rogoff noted concerns about chronic kidney failure, but according to the lawsuit, it wasn’t until two months later, when Lewis returned, complaining of “stabbing abdominal pain” in her left side that he scheduled her for an ultrasound.
The ultrasound revealed swelling and a cyst in Lewis’ left kidney. A subsequent CT scan showed that the kidney was severely swollen and revealed yet another indicator of impaired renal function.
Lewis was transferred to a urologist on Oahu, who assessed her kidney as having “minimal function” and surgically removed the organ. Her remaining kidney is now also moderately diseased, a condition the complaint alleges is also due to “multiple systemic and individual failures” in the medical treatment and care Lewis received at Hale Lea.
The lawsuit seeks to hold Rogoff, Cameron and their employer responsible for her injuries, and pain and suffering, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be proven at trial.
Rogoff said Lewis was aware her liver was damaged well before he began treating her, and that the decision not to pursue treatment for renal failure earlier was her own to make.
“All we can do is do our best to educate our patients,” he said Thursday. “We can’t control what they do.”
Rogoff said he thinks the case will go to trial, where he believes a jury will see the role Lewis played in her own treatment and the eventual loss of her kidney.
“I feel confident that we did good by her,” Rogoff said, explaining the difficulty physicians face when finding themselves the target of litigation pursued by a former patient.
His frustration is not an uncommon one. A 2017 study by the American Medical Association found more than a third of all physicians get sued at some point in their career. Getting sued is not necessarily an indicator of wrongdoing, but it isn’t cheap.
According to another AMA study published in 2018, the majority of medical liability claims are unsuccessful. The report found that, in 2015, 68% of medical liability lawsuits were dropped, dismissed or withdrawn prior to trial, but those claims still cost more than $30,000 on average to defend.
“We’re really trying our best up here,” Rogoff said. “It’s already a difficult job.”
A Hale Lea representative did not respond to requests for comment in time for this article. Efforts to contact Cameron were not successful.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.