Health Care

Suit: Docs said he had cancer, so he started planning funeral. He didn’t have cancer

Hear the voicemail Mike Fatino’s doctor left

Pasquale “Mike” Fatino is suing three Leawood doctors he says misdiagnosed him with cancer. He saved a voicemail in which one of the doctors apologizes for putting him through “at least a week of hell.”
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Pasquale “Mike” Fatino is suing three Leawood doctors he says misdiagnosed him with cancer. He saved a voicemail in which one of the doctors apologizes for putting him through “at least a week of hell.”

What would you do if a doctor said you were dying of an aggressive form of cancer?

Pleasant Hill resident Pasquale Michael Fatino went home and cried with his family, started planning his funeral, collapsed on his bathroom floor and “suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown,” according to court documents.

Then he found out he didn’t have cancer at all.

Fatino, 52, is suing three doctors at his former primary care clinic in Leawood, saying their misdiagnosis caused him and his family unnecessary pain and suffering last year.

“When they’re talking, ‘Hey, I’m going to deliver a cancer diagnosis,’ they need to be absolutely sure,” Fatino said.

The three doctors work at ProPartners Healthcare. An employee reached by phone there said they could not comment on Fatino’s case because of the pending litigation.

But Fatino saved a voicemail from one of them, Charles “Sonny” Holbrook, who apologized to him after a specialist from the University of Kansas Cancer Center determined Fatino didn’t have cancer.

“Man, I’m looking at this report from KU and I’m just so relieved,” Holbrook says on the recording. “I apologize that we probably scared the heck out of you. I just feared that’s what it was.”

Holbrook also apologizes for giving Fatino “at least a week of hell.”

According to California attorney Coulter Boeschen, misdiagnosis of cancer is a common medical malpractice claim, but it’s hard to prove the doctor’s mistake was an unreasonable one.

“Simply because the doctor’s diagnosis later turned out to be incorrect does not necessarily mean the doctor breached the professional standard of care, or behaved unreasonably under the circumstances,” Boeschen wrote in an article for the legal website “Some cancers can be quite difficult to detect or distinguish at various stages, and some benign conditions like cysts can sometimes reasonably be mistaken for cancer. Mistakes happen, but unreasonable mistakes may rise to the level of medical malpractice.”

Fatino said Holbrook had been his primary care doctor for years. But Holbrook was in Texas when Fatino came into the clinic complaining of flulike muscle aches in January 2017, so Fatino saw ProPartners founder Troy Burns instead.

Burns ordered CT scans for his stomach and hips, but it was Holbrook who called him later that day and, according to the lawsuit, told him he had terminal cancer of the lungs and liver.

“The first thing I said was ‘What? Are you sure?’ ” Fatino said.

Fatino said Holbrook told him it was obvious because of the spots on his lungs and liver that had shown up on the scans.

Fatino told his wife but otherwise planned to keep the news to himself until he had more information.

He went back to ProPartners the next day and saw a third doctor, Genelle Slagle, who “confirmed the diagnosis and advised and/or encouraged Plaintiff to inform his two young children of the terminal diagnosis,” according to the lawsuit.

Fatino’s kids were 12 and 13. His wife told them in the car on the way home. When they walked in the door, Fatino’s son went straight upstairs to his room. His daughter had a different reaction.

“She just fell,” Fatino said. “She just dropped. I had to hold her up and tell her everything’s going to be OK. That was probably the hardest part of this whole thing.”

Fatino said he started to write down all his computer passwords, make funeral arrangements, check life insurance policies and otherwise get his affairs in order.

A few days later, he had a biopsy that he said was extremely painful.

The next morning he woke up convinced he’d had a terrible nightmare about having cancer. Then he walked to the bathroom and saw in the mirror the bloody bandage from the biopsy on his chest and realized it was all real.

“I dropped to the floor and I lost it,” Fatino said.

A few days later when he went back to the KU Cancer Center to get the results of the biopsy, a specialist told him it wasn’t cancer but probably sarcoidosis and could be treated with a common steroid.

“I said, ‘How sure are you?’ and he said, ‘I’d bet money on it,’ ” Fatino said.

Fatino said he hasn’t been back to ProPartners since.