Connecticut U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant (Photo: Nick Lacy)
A 57-year-old Navy veteran has sued the West Haven Veterans Administration Hospital and a doctor at the facility’s Ear, Nose and Throat Department for allegedly failing to treat or diagnose his throat cancer.
In a 21-page federal lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Ned Fairbanks claimed that, despite many nodules in his throat area, Dr. Hugh F. Reilly denied his request and a request by his then-fiancée to perform a biopsy in September 2014.
“Dr. Reilly decided not to perform [a biopsy], deeming it unnecessary,” the lawsuit states. Instead, Reilly referred Fairbanks to a speech therapist on at least two separate occasions, “purportedly to help him speak differently to relieve the stress on his throat.”
The lawsuit, which seeks $5 million, alleges that six months passed before Reilly diagnosed Fairbanks with throat cancer in March 2015.
“Six months later, the tumor was the size of a plum,” David K. Jaffe, Fairbanks’ attorney, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Monday. “We had an ENT doctor who reviewed everything and, based on the exam and [Fairbanks'] history as a longtime smoker, that should have been a red flag to have a biopsy.”
The cancer progressed to a such level that Fairbanks had to have his larynx, thyroid gland and lymph nodes removed and had to have an electronic speaking device installed, Jaffe said.
Jaffe, of the Hartford law firm Brown Paindiris & Scott, also said a cancer specialist who reviewed the case believed that if the cancer were caught earlier, “it could have prevented the need for a voice box and that he could have been OK.”
An Enfield resident, Fairbanks was in the Navy from 1979 to 1988.
“He is a very stoic person,” Jaffe said. “But he is having trouble accepting the change in his image and body function.”
Fairbanks, his attorney said, still works as a heavy equipment operator in the construction business but “he has found work to be increasingly more difficult. It is often hard for him to speak and he gets fatigued easily. There is also a lot of dust and bacteria where he works.”
As of Monday afternoon, the West Haven VA had not assigned an attorney to the case.
Reilly was not available for comment Monday and no one from the West Haven VA was available for comment.
The lawsuit will be heard by Judge Vanessa Bryant.