Panama Technicians Found Guilty

Two radiology technicians have been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in applying “super-radiation” to 12 patients at the National Cancer Institute of Panama in 2000 and 2001.

Technicians Olivia Saldaña González and Alexis Concepción Alveo González were sentenced by the Fourteenth Circuit Court of Panama to four years in prison, following the miscalculation of doses of radiation being given to pelvic cancer patients, according to a report in Panama’s La Prensa newspaper and on its web site Thursday.

A third technician, Alvaro Aurelio Mejía Rodriguez, was acquitted.

The case was the subject of a cover story in March 2004 in Baseline on software quality, entitled “We Did Nothing Wrong.” In that report, Saldaña González described how she attempted to use software from Multidata Systems International, a U.S. company, to calculate dosages.

She tried to use the software to find a way to place five radiation shields over each patient’s body, instead of four. But the software was only designed to accept inputs and make calculations based on four or fewer shields, according to the Baseline report. Describing the five shields as one large shield led to incorrect dosages being applied.

Saldaña González and Alveo González were held responsible for “imprudence” in the way calculations of the doses were made, according to a translation of the La Prensa report. District attorney Cristobal Arboleda argued that the technicians had modified the cobalt treatment procedure, without authorization.

Mick Conley, Multidata’s general business manager, said the ruling “does not surprise me.”

“I thought they were negligent and that’s the way they would have been treated in the United States,” he told Baseline.

According to the La Prensa report, 28 patients were affected by the “super-radiation” and 18 eventually died.

The technicians that went to trial constitute three of the only four “suitable professionals” for carrying out tests on cancer patients in Panama, according to LaPrensa.

Saldaña González and Alveo González are barred by the ruling from practicing their radiological skills for at least four years, according to the report.