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Maryland regent, Baltimore lawyer dies of cancer in the middle of medical malpractice trial

Katrina Dennis, 34, attorney from Owings Mills.
Katrina Dennis, 34, attorney from Owings Mills. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

Katrina Dennis, a regent for the University System of Maryland, lawyer and prolific volunteer, has died after a battle with breast cancer that had led her to sue her doctor and the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center for malpractice.

She was a week into what was expected to be a two-week civil trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court, but Dennis was hospitalized and unable to attend. Dennis was seeking about $24 million in damages, but the impact of her death is unclear.

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Dennis was 36 in 2015 when she was diagnosed with the earliest form of breast cancer, called ductal carcinoma in situ, in which abnormal cells are found in milk ducts. About 20% of new breast cancers are DCIS, according to
the American Cancer Society.

It is normally curable with surgery.

Through her lawyer Robert Weltchek, Dennis alleged that her doctor, Dr. Michael Schultz, head of the Breast Center at St. Joseph, was negligent in her care.

The lawsuit alleges that Schultz led her to believe that her cancer would not recur after surgery and didn’t press a drug, Tomoxifen, that might have staved off regrowth and spread of the cancer.

Lawyers for Schultz, a surgeon with decades focusing on cancer patients, argued that he provided the standard of care, informing her of her options and testing her blood and lymph nodes to ensure that the cancer had not spread.

In 2017, Dennis, then a partner at the law firm Saul Ewing, went to an urgent care center with back pain, which a nearby emergency room later determined was advanced cancer. Before she died, the cancer had spread to her blood, bones and organs.

"This is a very sad time,” said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for St. Joseph, in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Dennis family and those impacted by her passing."

Gov. Larry Hogan, who appointed Dennis to the Board of Regents, said he was “deeply saddened” by her death.

“Katrina was a top lawyer, a respected leader in the Baltimore region, and someone who lived each day committed to giving back to her community,” Hogan wrote on Twitter.

Linda Gooden, chair of the university system’s Board of Regents, and Robert L. Caret, system chancellor, expressed sadness at her death in a joint statement that said: “It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Katrina Dennis, last evening [Saturday, Aug. 31] in Baltimore. Katrina fought a long, hard and courageous battle with cancer during the past several years."

The statement called her “active and committed” to service. As a regent, Dennis served as a member of the Organization and Compensation and Education Policy and Student Life committees. Earlier this year, the statement said, she took over leadership of the Coppin State University Presidential Search Committee.

“The Board of Regents has lost an amazing talent, a hard-working colleague—and a caring friend,” the statement said. “Katrina was also an alumna (University of Baltimore School of Law), who gave so much to the USM, the State of Maryland and the legal profession. Katrina’s is a tremendous loss—and she will be greatly missed by her many colleagues and friends in the USM."

A lawyer for Dennis did not comment.

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