Compensation win for anaesthetic awareness victim

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Compensation win for anaesthetic awareness victim

13th September 2010

A young woman who was conscious while she should have been under general anaesthetic during an operation has received a gross sum of £500,000 in compensation.

Victoria Gofton, a clinical negligence specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP said: "This was a very sad and complicated case that robbed a young woman of her career, fitness and independence."

The woman discovered a lump in her throat whilst working overseas in Saudi Arabia in late 2004, and was recommended surgery to remove her thyroid. She had the operation in London in 2005, but she became aware during surgery and experienced what she described as intense pressure - as if someone was standing on her throat. The incident left her with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and chronic-fatigue-syndrome (CFS).

"This was an extremely difficult experience," said Victoria, an associate with the firm. "Due to negligence on the part of the anaesthetist, my client was awake for approximately 20-30 minutes of the procedure and terrified. Totally unable to speak, see or move, she could only listen as the operating staff around her described her bleeding and her subsequent need for stitching."

The trauma the 39-year-old woman experienced as a result of her awareness led her to develop PTSD, which she suffered from for six months before it led to the CFS which she still endures.

Initially told it would take two weeks to recover from the operation, the resulting PTSD and CFS prevented the victim from returning to her burgeoning career in Riyadh. Instead she was forced to remain in England where she has needed and continues to need substantial care and assistance for herself and her young son which has been provided by her parents.

"This was a very complex case," said Victoria, "as the NHSLA consistently denied liability and a significant amount of time had to be spent on proving breach of duty by the Trust. This delay did nothing to help the claimant's recovery and it was very difficult for her to obtain the treatment she so badly needed due to a lack of NHS funding for this condition. Once breach of duty was determined, the next issue to confront was causation. Chronic fatigue syndrome and its causative link to the awareness and resulting PTSD is generally a very difficult area and expert evidence had to be obtained from a number of reputable experts in order to prove this link."

The average duration of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is 3-5 years and the claimant has now been symptomatic for five years. It is understood that 40 per cent of sufferers will not recover to previous levels of functioning. As a result of her condition she was forced to abandon any hopes of successfully returning to the job and lifestyle she had loved so much. With treatment it is possible that she will be able to return to a non-stressful part-time occupation at some point but will always be vulnerable to relapse if re-exposed to stressful situations in the future.

As well as her own life, the experience the claimant endured had a profoundly negative influence upon the life of her young son. He was withdrawn from the school he loved, once the claimant made the difficult decision to end her employment, in a job she knew she would never be able to return to. Her parents were tasked with having to shoulder responsibility for both their daughter and grandson. The claimant continues to suffer from CFS related complications as well as pain and exhaustion on a daily basis.

"My client led a very fit, active and exciting life with tremendous opportunities available to her before the operation," said Victoria. "No amount of money can ever compensate what has been taken away from her. The damages she has now received will hopefully help towards paying for her future care and treatment and help her and her family deal with the challenges she continues to face."

How can Fentons Solicitors help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to clinical and medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.