The pain that will never go away is from not knowing. Parents of children who lost the battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after being treated with outdated therapies at University of New Mexico Hospital live with grief and, in many cases, with doubt.
Procedures Put in Place To Prevent Another Tragedy
It won't happen again. That's the fervent hope of University of New Mexico officials who say they are doing everything they can to prevent another tragedy like the one involving pediatric leukemia patients.
Hospital Describes Efforts To Protect Patients
Phil Eaton, interim vice president for health sciences at the University of New Mexico, and Paul Roth, dean of the UNM School of Medicine, provided this written statement Thursday:
"My name is Dr. ----- from the University of New Mexico. ... We are contacting families of children treated for leukemia here, because it now appears that at least some of the children did not receive the treatment that was recommended at the time the children were being seen ... So far we can't say that the difference in treatment made any difference in your child's condition ..."
The scripts were similar, tailored to whether the child had died or was still alive. University of New Mexico physicians began making the painful calls in late March 1998 to about 110 families of children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, commonly known as ALL, from 1989 to 1996.
Absence of Patients in Clinical Trials Raised Eyebrows
Some attending a national meeting of the Pediatric Oncology Group in St. Petersburg, Fla., apparently couldn't believe the number not in Dr. Marilyn Duncan's own state.
Stuart Winter felt a gnawing concern almost from the time he began his new job in the pediatric oncology division at University of New Mexico Hospital. (November 29)
Marilyn Hey seemed to lead a charmed life growing up in Baldwin City, Kan. She belonged to one of the oldest and most prosperous families in town. She was a popular girl. She was smart and had set her sights on a career in medicine.
In the next decade, she would excel in college and medical school and marry a fellow medical student, Paul Duncan.
But somewhere along the way, the promise of Marilyn Duncan's childhood gave way to something else.
Lovelace Physician Relied on UNM Expert's Advice
Donald Pinkerton was one of the believers. The longtime Lovelace Health Systems pediatrician wasn't a certified oncologist, so he often relied on Marilyn Duncan when one of his young patients was diagnosed as having cancer, he said.
A Question of Treatment
Marilyn Duncan insists the treatments she gave to children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia were medically appropriate and effective. Some experts disagree.
While the medical questions can be argued, some things are clear. Children have died, families have been destroyed, careers have been ruined.
Parents Were Assured Care Was the Best Anywhere
Dr. Marilyn Duncan used to say that children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia were getting state-of-the-art treatment at the University of New Mexico Hospital, depositions show.
Marilyn Duncan Responds
Marilyn Duncan declined to be interviewed for this series but provided a written statement through her attorney.
DAY ONEChart Comparing Survival Rates
Children Didn't Get Treatment They Should Have
After the awful diagnosis, the routine was pretty much the same: powerful drugs pumped into little veins, needles poked into spines, days of nausea, months of pain and years of doctors all for the chance to see an 18th birthday.
Nationwide, three out of four children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, still were alive five years after diagnosis. At University of New Mexico Hospital, it was just two of four. The difference in the story of the 190 or so children treated for ALL at the UNM Hospital from 1982 to 1996 came down to how physicians battled the disease.
Mark's Story: A Five-Part Series
Taking One Day at a Time
The phone in Carol Beach's house never did ring with a call from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The reports on TV and in the newspapers that spring had said hospital officials would call the parents of children who had received something other than the recommended cancer treatment between 1989 and 1996. Carol's son, Mark, was healthy he had been cancer-free for three years and Carol figured that must mean he got the good treatment.
Chapter Four: Continuing Nightmares
Chapter Three: Blossoming Hopes
Chapter Two: Agonizing Therapy
Chapter One: Frightening Symptoms