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Chef Grant Achatz reaches settlement in tongue-cancer suit

Chef Grant Achatz kitchen his restaurant Alinea.

Chef Grant Achatz in the kitchen of his restaurant, Alinea.

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Updated: April 24, 2012 8:16AM

Acclaimed chef Grant Achatz has reached an undisclosed settlement with the Chicago-area dental clinic he sued after a stunning 2007 diagnosis of late-stage oral cancer, according to court records and a source involved in the litigation.

In the wake of the deal, Achatz dropped lawsuits against two dentists, Wilmette-based Loveline Dulay and Michelle Schwartz, who had been working at the clinic — Bucktown Wicker Park Dental Associates — that settled with the chef Friday.

Achatz, whose own brand of molecular gastronomy is showcased at Chicago eateries Alinea and Next, filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court back in April 2008, about a year after he was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer.

His attorney, Charles Hornewer, declined comment. John M. Green, the attorney for the clinic, said only, “The case was dismissed pursuant to a settlement reached with him for an undisclosed amount. Bucktown Wicker Park [Dental Associates] does not make any admission of liability in making the settlement.”

Achatz’s suit claimed that the dentists didn’t do enough to facilitate an earlier diagnosis of his cancer.

After his 2007 diagnosis, the chef told the Sun-Times his problems began in 2004 with a white dot about the size of a coarse breadcrumb on the left side of his tongue.

At the time, he was planning Alinea and working at Trio in Evanston. He figured he was gnawing his tongue because of stress — and his dentist agreed. A mouth guard didn’t help. But a biopsy in November of 2004 came back clean, the Sun-Times reported at the time.

In May 2007, the dot “started going crazy,” Achatz said then, noting that the lesion was growing, he was in pain and his speech was off.

In June, his dentist fitted him again for a mouth guard.

“At this point, needless to say, I changed dentists,” he said.

An oral surgeon did another biopsy and gave Achatz the devastating news: it was cancer.

Initially, he was told he was going to have to have three-fourths of his tongue cut. But Achatz eventually went to the University of Chicago where he underwent chemotherapy and radiation and is now cancer-free.

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