Rare Cancer Takes The Lives of Two Children, Families Sue
The parents of Damian Creed and Salette Ruiz lost their children at the ages of 4 and 5, respectively, from a rare yet aggressive eye cancer called retinoblastoma. The cancer spread to the children’s brains and central nervous systems, eventually taking their lives. And, roughly a year and a half after their losses, both families are suing Dr. Timothy Murray, neuro-oncologist Dr. Ziad Khatib, and Nicklaus Children’s in Miami, Florida, for medical malpractice.
The families have alleged the doctors failed to follow standard medical procedures for treating advanced retinoblastoma. One of the most common solutions is to surgically remove of the affected eye to prevent the cancer from spreading. They’ve also said the hospital neglected to supervise the physicians’ work. This form of cancer only takes the lives of approximately five percent of its victims.
Damian and Salette were first diagnosed with an advanced stage of retinoblastoma by Murray, according to the children’s parents. Salette was referred to Nicklaus Children’s by the family pediatrician. “I always believed she was in the best hands and my daughter was going to be saved,” said Sally Simon, Salette’s mother, “because they always gave me options. They never said, ‘This is so bad that there’s no solution.’”
Said Sarah Hancock, Damian’s mother: “Never for a second did I think he might die of this. Never. Those risks weren’t even discussed. That never came up. Like, that wasn’t even an option.”
Jeff Marcus, Murray’s attorney, said in a written statement that the eye surgeon is renowned and respected, and his work over a 25-year career has led to some of the most significant advances in the treatment of retinoblastoma, which has saved many lives.
“Of the more than 370 retinoblastoma patients he has treated, these are the first and only two who have been lost to advanced metastatic retinoblastoma, well below the national mortality rate from this disease,” Marcus said. “Dr. Murray is devastated by the loss of these two children and grieves for their families. However, the facts will show that these children received outstanding medical care — the same level of care Dr. Murray has provided to thousands of patients throughout his career.”
Jennifer Caminas, a spokesperson for Nicklaus Children’s, said, “As an advocate for all children, the hospital always puts the health and safety of patients first. We are committed to offering the highest quality care. Due to this dedication to the relentless pursuit of clinical excellence, any concern regarding patient care is taken very seriously and thoroughly addressed.”
Jorge Ruiz, Salette’s father, said Murray diagnosed the girl in November 2013 with “the most serious retinoblastoma he’d seen in his career.” Had Murray removed Salette’s eye sooner, Ruiz believes, the cancer would not have spread to her brain and spinal cord fluid.
“If he sees her Friday and Monday we’re removing her eye, Salette would not be dead and we wouldn’t be here,” Ruiz said. “But he started to invent things, doing chemotherapy, radiation, and that opens a path for the cancerous cells to spread. If it’s the most aggressive you’ve ever seen, then remove the eye.”
Murray examined Damian under anesthesia, after the boy had suffered from a permanently dilated eye, and confirmed the boy had retinoblastoma and a detached retina, which would have affected the child’s ability to see.
“He said it was really bad,” Hancock said. “He said he didn’t think he’d be able to save the eye, ‘But I’d hate to remove a 2-year-old’s eye before we try to do something, and we’re doing this intra-arterial chemotherapy here now. It’s a fairly new program, and I want to see how he reacts to it.’ I said ‘OK.’ He said, ‘I want to try that before we remove the eye.’ “”
After Damian’s death, his parents wanted to memorialize their son by taking toys to other children with cancer at hospital oncology wards in South Florida. Their goal is to create a nonprofit that will raise money for children with cancer and hopefully help save lives.