The BC Cancer Agency for the North's chief oncologist, Dr. Suresh Katakkar, resigned in June amid concerns that he prescribed a non-approved treatment to a patient.
Katakkar came to Prince George in January 2011 and was the first medical oncologist to sign on to work at the BC Cancer Agency Centre for the North.
In an interview with the media in 2011, Katakkar said he left his lucrative practice in Tucson, Ariz. to make a difference and work in an environment that put patient welfare above profits.
"I love the people I'm working with and their devotion to the cause," Katakkar said at the time.
They are not the words of a man who would put a patient at risk needlessly or recklessly.
From her obituary in the Alaska Highway News in her hometown of Fort St. John, it's clear how important Holly Hill, the patient in question, was to those around her.
She was a granddaughter, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, friend, coworker and wife.
"Holly felt shed done her job if she was able to make someone laugh or smile," the obituary said.
She was, "a quirky spirit who always had a song in her heart, and for her entire all-too-short life, [put] others first."
A happy, otherwise healthy 33-year-old, Hill deserved every chance at survival modern medicine could provide her. Katakkar appears to have believed that enough to risk his career, and the wrath of the BC Cancer Agency, by providing a treatment not approved by the agency.
Hill's final blog entry from March 3, just a month and eight days before her death, is a painful account of a brave young woman mortally ill with stomach cancer.
In the blog entry, Hill wrote about the course of treatment Katakkar was prescribing her.
"I also hadn't seen Dr. Katakkar in the flesh in two weeks, so I didn't know if he was planning at this point to continue on for a second round of the every two-week compromise chemo... or if he was planning on switching me to yet another new regime. (The only problems that come along with having a brilliant [and] exceptionally busy world-class oncologist - I'll take them any day of the week!)," Hill wrote.
Later in the same entry, after having had a discussion with Katakkar, she wrote:
"A new regime, but since it's not a nice documented BC Cancer Agency approved formula, I'm not going to go into any details. Dr. Katakkar is hoping hitting the cancer more frequently at a lower dose will mean the ascites don't have time to build up again. We are hopeful too."
Hill's account, written in her own words before her death, seems to support Katakkar's own account of events: that he was struggling to find a treatment to save his 33-year-old patient, so resorted to a non-approved treatment with Hill's knowing consent.
"...Dr. Katakkar gave me another pep talk on Friday. He still believes I can beat this. He still has hope. So even though I've reached [and] passed my breaking point a few times this past week, I'm determined to believe too," she concluded. "Thank you all for your continued warm wishes. Love you all."
It seems unlikely that Hill would have wanted to see the doctor who gave her the hope to carry on cast out from the profession for his actions.
Certainly her family has supported Katakkar, thanking him by name in her obituary.
"He deserves to be treated far better than that," Hill's father, former Prince George-Peace River MP Jay Hill said. "I think the BC Cancer Agency needs to explain themselves."
There is something fundamentally wrong in BC's public health care system if it is willing to let a young woman die, rather than allow her to knowingly - and at her family's expense - take her chances with an alternative treatment which might save her life.
And it's doubly wrong to punish doctors who push the envelope to find the best treatment for patient's whose lives are on the line.
It will take a group of medical experts to determine if Katakkar made the right call. But there is no doubt that he, with Hill and her family's support, should have had the freedom to try his best to save her.
-- Associate news editor, Arthur Williams