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DOCTOR MISSED CANCER SIGNS : MELLMAN AGONIZES OVER DIAGNOSIS.

Byline: Tim Brown Daily News Staff Writer

Dodgers team physician Dr. Michael F. Mellman said Wednesday that the tumor in Brett Butler's tonsil was not diagnosed before surgery because he and Butler's personal physician assumed the Dodgers outfielder had only tonsillitis.

Said Mellman, who examined Butler periodically during the past six weeks: ``He had been seen by me as well as (ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Robert Gadlage),'' Mellman said. ``I don't know what to say, other than there was something there that we didn't notice. We don't miss things very often.''

Mellman, who in 1991 diagnosed Lakers player Magic Johnson as HIV positive, said he has agonized over Butler's treatment, as he would any patient in similar circumstances.

Butler was found to have a cancerous tumor encased in his right tonsil.

``When you have a distressing diagnosis like this, you have to go back and see whether there was an opportunity to make a difference,'' Mellman said.

One critical sign, he said, could have been the inability of the antibiotics to control what the doctors thought was an infection. Since early February, Butler experimented with drugs and dosages in an attempt to ease the pain and side effects, typically manifested in lethargy, to no avail.

``There may not have been an infection in the ultimate diagnosis,'' Mellman said. ``The antibiotics do not treat cancer.''

Mellman, who is not a cancer specialist, is in daily contact with Gadlage, who on Friday discovered and removed the tumor, and performed the tonsillectomy. On May 21 in Atlanta, Butler will undergo surgery to remove what Gadlage and Dr. William J. Grist, a cancer specialist, assume are cancerous lymph nodes and muscle tissue.

At a Duluth, Ga., press briefing, Gadlage said Grist, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Surgery Department at Emory University in Atlanta, believes there still is some cancer in Butler's neck.

``We have to assume that's what's causing the one lymph node he still has to stay enlarged,'' Gadlage said.

Physically, Butler needs two weeks to recover from the tonsillectomy. Mellman said he assumed that ``the two weeks is not a significant period of time in the grand scheme of things. My guess is that if they thought it was a critical issue, that Brett would be harmed by the two weeks, that they would operate a lot quicker.

``In situations like this you pray for two things: One, that they have personal strength, and two, that they have people around who are strong. If you ask for a model of that, Brett and (his wife) Eveline are it.''

In Atlanta, Gadlage downplayed the significance of Butler's use of chewing tobacco in his early days as a player. He said both of Butler's parents smoked, so Butler was exposed to secondhand smoke consistently as a child.

``We can see someone who smokes two packs a day, three packs a day for 50 years who never gets this. Then there's somebody with minimal exposure like Brett,'' Gadlage said.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1--color) Dodgers fan Rodney Persinger holds a si gn supporting Brett Butler in Cincinnati Wednesday.

(2) Dr. Robert Gadlage shows where an incision will be made on Brett Butler when he is operated on May 21.

Associated Press
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 9, 1996
Words:541
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