Geraldine Walker was on hospice two years ago.
“I was like 79 pounds and I was on oxygen,” the 83-year-old told The News Tribune recently. “... They just figured I maybe had months or weeks to live. It’s not very comfortable to be 79 pounds, trust me.”
Now she says she walks two miles a day, drives her own car and hopes to soon return to cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
In the meantime, she’s sued her former Gig Harbor doctor and the company where he worked, alleging she was given chemotherapy after she said she did not want it, and that the damage it did to her heart nearly killed her.
The doctor, Moacyr Ribeiro de Oliveira, told her the drug he prescribed was not chemotherapy, and failed to properly advise her of its risks, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit, filed Sept. 25 in Pierce County Superior Court seeks unspecified damages from Oliveira and Northwest Medical Specialties. Neither has been formally served with the suit.
Attempts by The News Tribune to email and fax the lawsuit to Oliveira for comment were not successful. He no longer appears to work at Northwest Medical Specialties, which did not return messages left by the newspaper.
A search of Oliveira’s license with the state Department of Health found no complaints or disciplinary actions against him.
This lawsuit gives this account of Walker’s interactions with Oliveira and the clinic:
She saw the doctor in early 2016, when he either worked for or was a partner with Northwest Medical Specialties.
Oliveira told her she had amyloidosis, which the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center describes as a disorder “in which an abnormal protein called amyloid builds up in tissues and organs.” Severe amyloidosis “can lead to life-threatening organ failure,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Oliveira told her he wanted to treat the condition with a drug called bortezomib, also known as Velcade.
“Walker was never informed that Velcade was a chemotherapy treatment or treated as chemotherapy,” the suit says.
She also was never told of the risk that the drug could damage her heart. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has 17,000 reports of heart damage caused by Velcade.
Oliveira should have known that risk, the lawsuit contends, because he was part of a trial for the drug, during which one of his patients had a heart attack.
Walker reported chest pains after she started getting weekly injections, and told Oliveira she was concerned about how the treatment was making her feel.
He dismissed her concerns, and those of her family in the following months.
On May 3, 2016, Walker’s daughter found her “struggling to breathe, convulsing, incoherent, unable to speak, with blue lips, and guttural screaming,” the lawsuit says.
She was taken to the intensive care unit at Tacoma General Hospital, and a cardiologist determined her heart failure was a result of Velcade toxicity.
A week later Walker followed up with Oliveira, and her daughter, who had power of attorney, told Oliveira that Walker shouldn’t be given more Velcade injections.
The daughter told the doctor she believed the drug was causing Walker permanent heart damage, and cited studies about such damage from the drug.
Oliveira told her Walker would die without it, the suit contends.
The next week, “Walker was administered Velcade under duress, and against Walker’s daughter’s explicit direction, at Oliveira’s office,” according to the suit.
Walker was ill when she got home, and her daughter called Oliveira’s office and canceled the injection scheduled for a few days later. She again told Oliveira that Walker was to have no more injections of Velcade.
A few days later, Walker’s son drove her to the office for a consultation. She was taken into a back room without him and given another injection of the drug, the suit states.
Walker was hospitalized for several days after that. Her daughter called the doctor’s office about the hospitalization, and to report her mother’s shortness of breath and decreased kidney function.
The nurse who called her back “informed her that Oliveira no longer wanted to see Walker and she should find another oncologist,” the lawsuit says.
Ultimately the daughter spoke with a nurse practitioner at the office, and demanded that they look at federal guidelines and other information about Velcade causing heart block, as well as a chart that said a Tacoma General cardiologist found the drug had done so to Walker.
They ended up meeting with the nurse practitioner, who “held Walker’s hand to hers and said that ‘Dr. Oliveira is frustrated with you because we think that 90 percent of this is in your head.’”
Emotions can’t cause heart block, the daughter objected.
Walker ended up being hospitalized at St. Joseph’s Medical Center with heart and respiratory failure from May 31 to June 13, 2016.
Doctors told her and her family she was on the verge of death. She was discharged to hospice and went home with her daughter.
Walker stopped all drug treatment July 13, 2016. Since stopping the treatment, her condition has improved.
“Oliveira’s treatment of Walker with Velcade was the direct and proximate cause of multiple near death experiences by Walker, such that her condition was deemed grave and she was place on hospice care,” the lawsuit says. The doctor’s “continual refusal to listen to Walker’s concerns, and the concerns of her family, that Velcade was causing permanent damage to Walker’s heart fell below the standard of care.”
The treatment caused heart failure, complete heart block and kidney failure, requiring her to get a pace maker, the lawsuit states.
It also says: “Upon information and belief, Oliveira was significantly compensated by insurance companies for Walker’s treatment with Velcade and that this, at least in part, drove his decisions to ignore proper informed consent and ignore clear signs of cardiac damage caused by Velcade.”
Walker, the mother of four and grandmother to nine, now lives with one of her children in Tacoma. She says she enjoys helping out around the house.
One of her sons recently taught her how to send text messages on her flip phone, she said.
“I just wish doctors would listen to their patients,” Walker said. “I’m still here. Despite everything, I’m here.”