A young mother whose healthy breast was removed after she was wrongly diagnosed with cancer was awarded £346,957 damages by a high court judge yesterday.
Anita Froggatt, 32, was 28, with a 10-year-old son, and had been married for only eight months when she discovered a marble-sized lump in her right breast.
In an error which the former health secretary, Frank Dobson, said made him "ill just thinking about it", the slide with her tissue sample was mixed up with another from a cancer sufferer by an overworked pathologist.
Surgeons removed the breast and six lymph glands, leaving her with restricted arm movement and forcing her to give up her factory job.
She was told of the mistake three weeks after losing her breast, when a second sample of tissue from the lump showed it was clear of cancer.
An inquiry into the work of the pathologist, Peter Gray, found that he was carrying more than three times the national average workload at Chesterfield Royal Hospital. He was required to undergo retraining.
Mrs Froggatt, from Chesterfield, brought the action against Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal Hospital NHS Trust, which admitted liability but disputed the amount of damages.
Tragically, said Mr Justice Forbes, the mistake "was not discovered until after Mrs Froggatt had been through the trauma of being told she had cancer of the breast and of the drastic surgery thought to be necessary".
He added: "Nothing had prepared her for such news. She was extremely distressed and frightened and thought that she was going to die."
She stopped working as soon as she was given the diagnosis and had not worked since. He regarded the possibility of her returning to work as remote.
Mrs Froggatt was told she had developed a "high-grade" cancer and should have her right breast removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
After the mastectomy on February 22 1999 she suffered considerable post-operative pain and for six months had to support her right arm with a pillow, said the judge.
She was told the cancer was "very lively and aggressive and that she would need to have the highest permissible dose of chemotherapy".
On March 15 she was told that an error had been made. The judge said: "The anguish, pain and distress that Mrs Froggatt has suffered as a result of these events and the consequences that followed can hardly be exaggerated."
In her witness statement she said: "I was still only 28 years old and had recently got married. I felt as though I was disfigured and unattractive. I had lost my right breast and was scarred on my arm and I felt as if I was no longer a woman or attractive to my husband."
Between September 1999 and May 2002 she underwent seven reconstruction operations "that were both physically painful and psychologically distressing", said the judge.
"She continues to find her body unacceptable but is unable to face further surgery at present." In psychiatric terms she was still "demonstrably ill".
Mrs Froggatt claimed the reconstructive surgery had left her with one breast significantly lower than the other, scarred and without a nipple.
Her husband, Paul, a groundworker, was awarded £5,000 for the trauma of seeing her undressed for the first time after the operation.
Her son, Dane, 13, won £1,000 for the shock of hearing that his mother had cancer and was likely to die.
Mr Froggatt said his wife was not well enough to attend court.
He added: "There are quite a lot of people who seem to be jealous as though we've won the money. It's going to make our life easier but I'd sooner have her the way she was four years ago."
The family's solicitor, Janet Baker, said the £75,000 award of general damages for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life was the highest for this type of injury.
"The award rightly reflects the horrific circumstances of the case and the permanent injury caused to Anita."
A second woman had a lump removed from a breast unnecessarily after another mix-up by the same pathologist.
In October 1999 the trust promised that any claims would be settled quickly.