By Charlotte Nisbet
A builder has been left with a hole in his cheek after ravaging cancer – which he was told was an infected wisdom tooth – burst through his face.
Victor Heath, 60, was left horrified when his cheek suddenly started weeping before a hole developed the size of a 2p coin.
Victor underwent 14 hours of surgery the following day in which doctors removed the tumour and carried out an operation which left a 6cm hole in his cheek.
As part of the surgery he had to have part of his jaw removed and replaced with bone and skin from his leg.
He remained in hospital for three weeks and had six weeks of radiotherapy and two courses of Chemotherapy to become cancer free.
The dad of three claims he visited his dentist three months before with pain and inflammation in mouth and was told he had an infection due to an embedded wisdom tooth.
Victor, from Pinner, Middlesex, is now pursing legal action against his dentist, Dr Roham Barez, who practised at Ruislip Dental Care, Middlesex, in 2014.
Through medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, it has been alleged Dr Barez’s failure to identify the tumour caused delays in Mr Heath’s referral to specialists and ultimately denied him of the chance to remove it earlier, before it caused serious disfigurement.
Victor said: “I am devastated about what happened to me and I am very upset by the facial disfigurement I have been left with.
“It upsets me to think it was almost three months before it happened that I first went to my dentist in lots of pain and with a lot of swelling.
“It has knocked my confidence significantly because people stare at me and ask me what happened when they see me.
“I visited my dental surgery on January 31 having suffered constant pain and swelling up to three weeks.
“My dentist noted me to have a very large swelling in the gum which he concluded was due to a deeply embedded wisdom tooth causing inflammation.
“I was told by the dentist that he did not carry out compound wisdom tooth removals but that he would refer him to Hillingdon Hospital, and placed me on antibiotics.
“Having heard nothing back from my dentist, I was getting very worried myself as I had gone home and looked on the Internet and a few things relating to my symptoms came up saying it could be cancer.
“It was for that reason I chased up the referral and was told it hadn’t been sent as they didn’t have my NHS number.
“It seemed strange, but as my doctors were nearby I went there and got it straight away. I was concerned about the delay and wanted it chasing up
Mr Heath, 60, said: “It has had a big impact on my life. If I do go out to a restaurant I make sure I am sat somewhere in a corner against a wall so that not many people can see me. I don’t think they’ll want to see it.
“My lower left lip is permanently numb as is the skin on my cheek. I feel as though I am dribbling which agitates me.
“That the tumour progressed so rapidly makes me feel that every day made a difference and that therefore if the delay was for nearly a month, my entire outcome could have been radically improved.
“I am grateful that there has been no tumour recurrence and that my life has been saved, but I am an entirely different person as a result of the scarring.”
When receiving the referral, Hillingdon Hospital made a routine appointment for March 13, where an Oral Surgery department consultant requested an urgent biopsy, which was carried out four days later.
Victor was informed on March 21 that his swelling was a cancerous tumour, and when seen again on April 2 to plan treatment, was told by a consultant that it was a stage four tumour.
He was booked in for surgery on April 14, 2014, at Mount Vernon Hospital, but says that in the days leading up to his scheduled operation the growth became more painful and bigger every day.
Victor said: “Over the period of a week the pain in my lower left mouth became much worse every day and what had been a pimple at the start grew larger each day.
“It suddenly grew at a rapid rate and to my absolute horror that the tumour erupted through the surface of my left cheek at the same site where the pimple had been. It was absolutely horrific.
“The hole was about the size of a 2p coin, and I understand it was about a third of the size of the actual tumour. It was weeping really badly.
“My wife was very worried and although we knew I was to be admitted the following day for surgery, she contacted the hospital who advised that we apply a bandage held together with a plaster.”
After being cancer free for almost four years, Victor is hoping lessons will be learned as part of legal action against the dentist.
He added: “It’s a massive relief to be in the clear. I owe it to the specialists at Mount Veron Hospital as they saved my life, they were incredible.
“However, when I think about what has happened, I feel angry that the dentist didn’t even consider it could have been something serious.
“I was able to come away from that appointment and look it up and come up with the right diagnosis, so why couldn’t he?
“It was when I was seeing specialists that people made comments like ‘I can’t believe he missed this’ and others made comments about how it could have been life-threatening that I decided to take legal advice. I want lessons to be learned.”
Jodi Newton, a specialist in handling medical negligence legal claims at Hudgell Solicitors, and who is representing Victor, said: “Given the pain Mr Heath had been suffering and the substantial swelling in his mouth, it would be expected that a dentist would ensure he was checked for something more sinister.
“This should have resulted in an urgent referral to see specialists to identify the correct diagnosis which would trigger treatment he so desperately needed as quickly as possible.
“Had Mr Heath been sent as potential cancer referral there is every likelihood that the cancerous tumour, which transpired to be an aggressive tumour, would have been discovered almost a month earlier than it eventually was.
“This has had a dramatic impact on Mr Heath’s life and we will be looking to recover damages to reflect his pain and suffering.
“Living with the scarring has had a major impact on his life and confidence, and could have been avoided with the appropriate medical care from his dentist.”
Dr Barez, said: “While I do not agree with the brief facts set out, I am limited in what I can say due to my professional duty to protect the confidentiality of my patients.
“I always strive to deliver the best possible care to all of my patients, and refer to the appropriate specialists as required.”