Laura Ann Collins fulfilled a lifelong goal when she started teaching kindergarten last year at St. Thomas More Academy in Frederick. By then, Collins knew she was dying of lung cancer.
Collins, 25, passed away in July. On Nov. 1, a Frederick County jury determined that her death could have been prevented if not for the negligence of her medical team. The jury awarded Collins' parents and her estate more than $1.2 million in damages against Parkview Medical Group at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
Collins' lawsuit, filed Aug. 25, 2010, foreshadowed her death.
"Plaintiff Laura Collins has suffered a loss of probability of a cure from her lung cancer and will, with reasonable medical probability, die from her lung cancer," it reads.
A phone call to Parkview's attorney, Mary Elizabeth Kaslick of Kaslick & Prete LLC in Frederick, was not returned.
Collins went to Frederick Memorial in February 2007 complaining of a persistent cough and chest pains and was given an X-ray, according to the lawsuit. The radiologist, Dr. Mark C. Glass-Royal, failed to identify a "cancerous mass" in Collins' left lung and instead diagnosed her with pneumonia.
Collins' cancer wasn't identified until August 2008, a delay that her lawyer, John J. Sellinger, said was likely fatal.
"There was a fairly narrow window in time when, if this had been picked up, it would have been statistically curable," said Sellinger, of Greenberg & Bederman in Silver Spring.
The complaint states that, had the cancer been caught in February 2007, the "probability of a cure was approximately 90 percent." By August 2008, Collins had a 6-by-8-centimeter tumor in her left lung and the odds of a cure had dropped to less than 50 percent.
Glass-Royal was originally included as a defendant, but was dropped from the suit before the trial started on Oct. 24, 2011.
"One less lawyer to fight," Sellinger explained. "And a lot less experts to fight."
Sellinger noted that, though Glass-Royal didn't identify the cancer initially, he did recommend follow-up screenings "to insure resolution of the suspected pneumonia." But in subsequent visits, Dr. Kimanh T. Le and other members of Parkview Medical Group treated Collins for pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchospasm without taking a second scan of her lungs.
"It was not until August 2, 2008, that the Defendants Kimanh T. Le, M.D. and Parkview Medical Group obtained a second chest x-ray, which led to the diagnosis of an advanced lung cancer," the complaint states.
By then it was too late to save Collins, an avid long-distance runner who sang in the youth choir at St. John the Evangelist Church for 10 years. She had fought the illness throughout her final undergraduate years at Radford University and during her master's of education studies at Frostburg State University, where she graduated with honors.
The young woman who was a member of the Future Teachers of America group at Frederick County'sBrunswick High School lived her teaching dream only briefly before she succumbed to the cancer.
On Nov. 1 -- the first day of lung cancer awareness month -- the jury found Le not negligent but awarded damages against Parkview in the amount of $725,000 for Collins' estate (including $500,000 in noneconomic damages) and $250,000 in noneconomic damages for each of her parents, Todd and Donna Collins.
Collins v. Drs. Reid Ahmadian and Thompson PA, et al
Frederick County Circuit Court
Julie Stevenson Solt
$1.225 million ($500,000 noneconomic damages and $225,000 economic damages for decedent; $250,000 noneconomic damages to each parent).
Incident: February 2007
Suit filed: Aug. 25, 2010
Disposition: Nov. 1, 2011
John J. Sellinger of Greenberg & Bederman
Mary Elizabeth Kaslick of Kaslick & Prete LLC
Negligence that contributed to death.