"Kali, my girl"for The Wall Street Journal
“It’s still so surreal to see her name here. It’s a nightmare for me that I can’t wake up from,” said Lisa Tree Top as she visited her mother’s gravesite on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Her mother Catherine Miner passed away on May 30, 2017.
In late fall of 2016, Catherine had a persistent cough that wouldn’t cease. Her daughter Kali Tree Top decided to take her to the Cheyenne River Health Center, an Indian Health Service medical facility. Catherine was examined by Dr. Saira Khan who ordered an X-ray. A radiologist noted that a pleural-based mass was detected in the right lung and recommended a CT scan. However, Dr. Khan reported to Catherine and Kali that some “cloudiness” could be seen in the lungs. Dr. Kahn sent Catherine home with antibiotics and cough syrup.
Months later and still no follow-up, Catherine was losing weight and didn’t look well. “Kali, my girl, I’m not feeling well,” she said. She was nauseated and her body was cramping. They returned to IHS. Her chart didn’t have any notes regarding the tumors or an existing order for a CT scan from her previous visit. An assistant examined her, prescribed painkillers, and sent her home.
On April 7th, Catherine visited the emergency room. It was there that the masses were finally detected after a new X-ray and CT scan were ordered. The IHS provides free healthcare to nearly 2.6 million Native Americans serving a population in often desperate need of medical help. IHS facilities, including the Eagle Butte location, have been cited multiple times over the decade for haphazard record keeping, negligent follow ups, and sending people home who were critically ill. Less than three weeks later on May 24th Catherine’s daughters took her to the Rapid City Hospital where she was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. It had spread to her liver and brain. Six days later she passed away.
Kali Tree Top spends her days mulling through her mother’s medical records searching for all the discrepancies she can find. In October 2019, she filed suit against the U.S. government. The case is still in litigation.