When 23-year-old Stephanie Sofronsky found out she had cancer, she was in shock. She was nearing graduation at Florida Atlantic University and had a bright future in front of her. Then she got the devastating news that she had lymphoma. Sofronsky immediately sought out a second opinion at Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center and then visited the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to get a third opinion. All three doctors gave her the same diagnosis: Hodgkin lymphoma. While the diagnosis was devastating, doctors said that she had an 80 percent chance of survival with chemotherapy. Sadly, Sofronsky never got chemo and her health took a dark turn.
State officials are now investigating Dr. Kenneth Woliner for his failure to properly treat Sofronsky. Woliner is an integrative medicine specialist, but he may soon lose his license from the Florida Board of Medicine. After two hearings, a Florida judge found “clear and convicting evidence” that the doctor was guilty of medical malpractice and had exploited Sofronsky for financial gain. The judge called the doctor’s behavior “astounding”.
According to court documents and the testimony of Sofronsky’s mother, Woliner took repeated blood tests and treated her with antibiotics, iron injections, and a variety of herbal supplements. Stephanie’s mother said the doctor told them that he did not believe the girl had cancer and he believed her symptoms were related to allergies. Tragically, Sofronsky died after two years of treatment from Woliner. The autopsy showed the cause of death was untreated Hodgkin lymphoma.
Now Woliner could lose his medical license. This is a ground-breaking case because a doctor almost never loses a medical license due to a single malpractice case, even if the doctor’s actions cause the patient to die. However, officials say that this case is different because Woliner knew that Sofronsky had cancer and chose not to believe it or treat her appropriately.
Woliner’s attorneys are fighting the allegations of malpractice with several different lines of defense. First, they have argued that Sofronsky had sought advice and diagnosis from at least five doctors who specialize in cancer. Yet she chose to ignore their advice and try an alternate treatment option. They have also argued that Woliner was not Sofronsky’s primary care doctor and he was treating her for thyroid issues, not for cancer.
While the lawsuit could face months of legal battles in court, the family of Sofronsky is devastated, grieving the loss of a young girl who had a great chance for survival if she had been given the right treatment. Records even show that Sofronsky had visited a hematologist, but canceled the appointment for chemotherapy after she consulted with Woliner. To complicate matters further, Woliner’s practice doesn’t accept health insurance. He collected cash payments from Sofronsky’s mother amounting to $2,990 over two years.
Christopher Ligori, a Tampa medical malpractice attorney, said the case could raise broader questions about standards of medical care. “This tragedy brings up some major questions about integrative medical approaches. At what point does practicing alternative medicine become dangerous and where do we draw the line between giving patients a right to decide on their care versus the right to sue for medical malpractice when that care doesn’t give the desired results?”