Tuesday 18 June 2019

Julie would have wanted people to hear her story

Husband Paul: 'Now its feels like its starting all over again. It feels like she passed away from negligence'

Bill Browne

"She would have wanted people to hear about this. We all said that knowing Julie, if she had heard this she would have wanted her story out there."

Those were the heartfelt words of Fermoy man Paul Dingivan, who has spoken about his shock and anger at finding out that his late wife, Julie, was one of the women who died after incorrect smear tests had given her the all clear for cervical cancer. 

Mr Dingivan, whose wife died in April 2017 at the age of 36 following a four year battle with cancer, was speaking after finding out that the results of the smear test Julie received in 2009 were found to be inaccurate. 

Despite the fact that the discrepancies were discovered in 2016, Mrs Dingivan was never told about them. 

While the results of Mrs Dingivan's 2009 smear test showed no abnormalities, her husband subsequently found out that she had pre-cancerous lesions that had been missed. 

He told that Julie, who gave birth to their daughter in 2011, had experienced some bleeding during the pregnancy initially thinking it may have been a miscarriage. 

"There were small signs there at the time. She had the smear in 2013 and when she had it she knew something wasn't right as she was bleeding heavily at this stage," said Mr Dingivan. 

A few days after a biopsy was performed, Mrs Dingivan was given the "absolutely devastating" news that she had cancer of the cervix. 

Results from a subsequent operation came back clear but Mrs Dingivan's cancer returned in 2014 and for the next three years she underwent the trauma of sporadic chemotherapy and radiotherapy as the cancer would disappear and then return. 

After regularly travelling to Dublin's Beacon Hospital for treatment, Mrs Dingivan's condition worsened in September 2016, leading to her being admitted into Marymount Hospice. 

She spent the following Christmas at home surrounded by her family, but by March her condition had deteriorated to the point where she was re-admitted to Marymount in March, passing away the following month.  Mrs Dingivan left behind a son Craig (19) from a previous relationship, daughter Ali (7) with Paul and Paul's daughter Jasmine (17).

"It was four years of it, four years of constantly worrying before she passed away. Now it feels like its starting all over again. It feels like she passed away from negligence," said Mr Dingivan. 

When details of Vicky Phelan's experience began to emerge, Mr Dingivan could not help but notice similarities between what had happened to her and his wife. 

"I went to work on the Monday after her story came out and Julie's friends were texting me, asking if I'd heard about it. I wasn't sure, so I tried to book an appointment with the GP but they were booked up." 

He contacted a local radio station in a bid to find out who to contact for information and a day later received a call from a nurse at the CUH where Julie had been initially treated. 

The following day he met with a doctor and was told Julie was among the 17 women connected with the smear testing error who had passed away. 

"They said they found out about the test discrepancies in September 2016. When I asked when the review of her smear test took place, the doctor said he couldn't answer but that he would write to CervicalCheck to find out," said Mr Dingivan. 

"I couldn't even ask them any more questions, it was like there was something caught in my throat. I couldn't even look at them, I was just looking at a paint spot on the wall." 

An audit of the CervicalCheck screening programme found that 208 women who would later be diagnosed with cervical cancer were originally given an incorrect all-clear result following a smear test. 

Of these, 162 were not told about the audit results. Mr Dingivan said that he had initially tried to avoid the stories in the news. However, following encouragement from friends and family, he said  he wanted people to know Julie's story. 

"She (Julie) would have wanted people to hear this. We all said that knowing Julie, if she had of heard this she would have wanted her story out there," said Mr Dingivan.

"In a hospital you're just a number on a file, but now people can see the faces behind all these women's stories like Julie's."

The stories of women affected have continued to emerge over the past few weeks after Vicky Phelan's case first exposed the scandal when she took the HSE to the High Court.

Kerry mother-of-five Emma Mhic Mhathuna also made headlines when it was revealed that her 2013 smear test results were incorrect. She was diagnosed with cancer three years later. A HSE spokesperson said they were unable to comment on individual cases.