Botched Cancer Diagnosis Caused Impairment, Patient Claims
4-24-2020 16:05:00

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A Kaiser doctor sent a patient with facial swelling to physical therapy instead of timely diagnosing her cancer, the patient claims in her complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.


Dep Thi Trieu sued Kaiser Permanente and Emilie Ruth Muelly, M.D., for medical malpractice and professional negligence.

According to the action, plaintiff Trieu noticed that she had a swelling on her right upper cheek area in mid-October 2018, and she emailed her Kaiser family doctor, defendant Muelly. Because Muelly was out of the office, an appointment with her was set up for the end of the month.

At the appointment, Trieu asked for a referral to have a scan done, but Muelly reportedly told her that it was “TMJ-related” and she could only refer Trieu for physical therapy. TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint, which connects the lower jaw to the skull.

“Defendant Muelly further said that the only choice was for plaintiff to go through physical therapy, even though plaintiff told defendant Muelly that it was not related to her TMJ because she did not feel that she had any pain in the jaw or TMJ area. Moreover, the swell[ing] was close to the right eye, not the TMJ area,” the suit states.

Trieu followed Muelly’s instructions and went through physical therapy from November 2018 to March 2019, by which time Trieu felt the swelling was bigger. Muelly then referred Trieu to a maxillofacial surgeon/ENT specialist, according to the action. Trieu saw the specialist on April 22, 2019 and had an MRI scan the same day.

In early May 2019, defendants informed plaintiff that the MRI scan confirmed that the swelling on the right side of her face was cancerous. “Defendants then scheduled her for surgery on May 24, 2019. On or about May 24, 2019, the surgeon Fidelia Butt, MD, who operated and removed the cancerous tumor from plaintiff’s face, stated that if this surgery had been done last year (in October 2018), the outcome would have been very different for plaintiff as Dr. Butt informed plaintiff that what she had was stage III cancer,” the complaint claims.

As the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, Trieu reportedly underwent radiation until August 2019, then had to wait until November for an MRI to see if the cancer was gone.

Due to the delay in diagnosis, the surgery was far more complicated, and she had to have 33 radiation appointments, the action alleges. Now, her ability to taste is no longer the same, her face does not feel the same, her eyebrow sags, she is not able to fully close her eyes and her eyesight is changed.

Trieu seeks general and special damages, and legal costs and fees. She is represented by Michael Chinh Vu of VU.S.A. Law Offices, APC, in San Jose, California.

T20-912