Wednesday 18 September 2019

Cervical cancer husband: 'We're totally devastated but full of fight to get to the bottom of this

Catherine Reck is one of the 17 women who have died from cancer after her smear reading was a false negative
Catherine Reck is one of the 17 women who have died from cancer after her smear reading was a false negative
Catherine Reck's daughter Grace Rattigan pictured with her daughter

Sasha Brady

The husband of one of the 17 women who died without being informed that their smear tests had been misread has said the family are ready to fight for answers.

Catherine Reck was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2012 and died in April 2012. She was 48-years-old.

Her husband Paul learned last Monday that Catherine was one of the 209 women who had not been told that audits on their smear tests found previous tests had incorrectly given them the all-clear.

He discovered that Tallaght Hospital had been aware of the mistake as far back as 2016.

"We always had doubts, we always had questions but there was nobody to answer them. We just thought we were one of the unfortunate ones," he told RTE's Morning Ireland.

"It never felt right. Looking back, we questioned everything: 'why was she so sick and why did she pass away so quickly'?

Catherine Reck's daughter Grace Rattigan pictured with her daughter
Catherine Reck's daughter Grace Rattigan pictured with her daughter

"Only a person with cancer in their body knows and they can't explain it. Catherine felt that way for a long time but we passed it off, you try to reassure them that it's nothing serious because medically she was fine but clearly she wasn't."

Several months after a routine smear test gave Catherine the all-clear, she reported to her GP that she was feeling unwell and suffering from irregular bleeding. He recommended an urgent referral for a colposcopy. Tallaght Hospital confirmed to the family on Monday that the referral was not followed up as urgent. Catherine did not get a colposcopy until August 2011 and after a biopsy confirmed that she had stage-three cervical cancer.

When terminally ill Vicky Phelan exposed the CervicalCheck scandal, the Reck family began to wonder if Catherine's case was similar. A meeting was arranged with Tallaght Hospital on Monday but Paul said it wasn't handled in a sensitive manner.

"We were greeted on the corridor, we were asked why we were there. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. My blood was boiling at this stage, I thought 'do I have to explain on the corridor why we're here, in front of patients'?"

The family were eventually led to an examination room, which Paul described as "totally insensitive".

"The first thing I noticed was stirrups. It shocked me that we were brought in there. They had to get chairs brought in. The room was totally inadequate and totally insensitive to what we were going through," he said.

"We got down to the nitty gritty. We wanted to know who informed and why they didn't tell us [about the audit]. I was hoping against hope that they were told recently but they knew in 2016 and chose to file it away.

"We went into the room sad, angry and hurt and we came out totally devastated and full of anger but yet full of fight to make sure we get to the bottom of it."

Following the meeting in Tallaght Hospital, Paul said there has been “zero” contact from the HSE with his family. Paul wants to see somebody held accountable for the scandal.

On Saturday, his daughter Grace Rattigan spoke to and said the family are grieving all over again for their mother, six years after her death.

Grace explained that during the meeting with Tallaght Hospital they saw a handwritten note by the doctor on the sheet, reading: "find out if the patient is alive or not". When they saw this, they were left feeling "numb".

"Something needs to be reformed, particularly the process in which it's done and how people are dealt with. I would hate to see the smear uptake stop, I can't stress enough how important it is that people still need to get smears.

"We're not out for blood or attention, we're not those type of people. We just want change, we just don’t what any more women or families to go through what Catherine did."

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