ADVERTISEMENT

Rachael Rapraeger, center, at her sentencing this month. Sharon Holmes, left, read her statement to the judge during the hearing.

Beau Cabell , Macon Telegraph

Georgia worker falsified nearly 1,300 mammogram results

  • Article by: KATE BRUMBACK
  • Associated Press
  • April 27, 2014 - 8:04 PM

– Sharon Holmes found a lump in her left breast quite by accident. At work one day as a high school custodian, her hand brushed up against her chest and she felt a knot sticking out. She was perplexed. After all, just three months earlier, she had been given an all-clear sign from her doctor after a mammogram.

A new mammogram in February 2010 showed she in fact had an aggressive stage 2 breast cancer. The horror of the discovery was compounded by the reason: The earlier test results she had gotten weren’t just read incorrectly. They were falsified.

She wasn’t alone in facing this news. For about 18 months, the lead radiological technologist at Perry Hospital in Perry, about 100 miles south of Atlanta, had been signing off on mammograms and spitting out reports showing nearly 1,300 women were clear of breast cancer.

Holmes and nine other women were later shown to have lumps or cancerous tumors.

Successful surgery

Holmes said the discovery was horrifying. With a son in his 20s and another in high school at the time, she trembled at the thought of leaving them without a mother. “To me, that meant a death sentence,” she said. She underwent successful surgery the month after the cancer was discovered to remove the lump from her breast and followed that with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Her breast has been cancer-free for four years and subsequent cancers found elsewhere, in her lymph nodes and thyroid, have been successfully treated. Now she prays it doesn’t come back. But to find out later that she had been deceived made it even worse. “I’m thinking I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, getting my tests done, and then I find out someone else isn’t doing their job,” Holmes said.

Guilty plea

Rachael Rapraeger pleaded guilty earlier this month to 10 misdemeanor charges of reckless conduct and one felony charge of computer forgery. She was sentenced to serve up to six months in a detention center, to serve 10 years on probation during which she can’t work in the health care field and to pay a $12,500 fine.

She told police she had personal problems that caused her to stop caring about her job, that she had fallen behind processing piles of mammogram films. So she went into the hospital’s computer system, assumed the identities of physicians, and gave each patient a clear reading, an investigative report says. That allowed her to avoid the time-consuming paperwork required before the films are brought to a reading room for radiologists to examine, her lawyer Floyd Buford said.

Her actions were uncovered in April 2010 after a patient who’d received a negative report had another mammogram three months later at another hospital that revealed she had breast cancer. As hospital staff began to investigate, it was determined that the doctor whose name was on the faulty report had not been at the hospital the day the report was filed. Rapraeger quickly confessed to her supervisor that she was responsible and was fired from her job about a week later.

Sara Bailey also received a false-negative report. By the time it was discovered, her breast cancer progressed to the point that doctors had to remove her entire breast, she said.

The surgery was successful and the cancer hasn’t returned, but Bailey carries a bitterness inside her. “I’m not hurting and I don’t think I have cancer, but I’m not a woman anymore,” the 80-year-old said. The emotional wound was opened again this month when Rapraeger received a sentence that Bailey saw as a slap on the wrist.

© 2014 Star Tribune