Cancer misdiagnosed as teen acne at Florida ER

Family says doctor told them lump was a pimple

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. - How could cancer be mistaken for teenage acne? An Apollo Beach, Florida family says that is exactly what happened to them after a visit to the emergency room. Now the Hyatt family worries what happened to their son could happen again.

Like so many other high schoolers Joseph Hyatt loves video games and baseball. Unlike most his age Joseph faces a second showdown with cancer at 17.

His mom Teresa Hyatt says they would not have caught the cancer early had the family listened to the emergency room doctor. 

Joseph discovered the lump about half the size of a golf ball behind his ear on a Saturday night in June. To understand why a lump would send the Hyatts straight to the emergency room you'd have to know their history and heartbreak.

Various cancers wiped out half of Teresa's family within 6 years. A brother died of bone cancer at the age of 50. Teresa’s mother and father followed him in death. Then the disease turned its sights on Teresa's sister. And just last year, another bomb shell, Joseph was diagnosed with melanoma on his head.

That night in St. Joseph’s Riverview emergency room, Teresa said she relayed Joseph's melanoma and the family's cancer losses to both the nurse and the doctor. The family claims both a nurse and doctor looked at the lump and within minutes diagnosed it as teen acne.

Joseph's discharge papers included instructions for treating acne and a suggestion they follow up with his primary care physician.

Dr. Jay Wolfson Associate Vice President of USF Health said emergency room doctors often do not have the training it takes to diagnose cancer.

In this case a mother's instinct proved to be a life saver. Teresa took Joseph to his primary care physician two days after leaving the emergency room. The family doctor sent the Hyatts to Shands Cancer Hospital for a biopsy. That lump dismissed as a pimple turned out to be Hodgkin lymphoma.

The biopsy took care of the tumor but not all of the cancer cells. Joseph now faces another surgery.

After our inquiry the head of St. Joseph's Riverview Emergency Room contacted the family. Then a hospital spokesperson sent us this statement:

“ERs are designed for true medical emergencies and they focus on treating people who have been seriously injured or are gravely ill and in a lot of pain.”

While the Hyatt’s focus on the fight ahead they plan to share their story with anyone who will listen.

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