Six-year ordeal of hip surgery pensioner who developed “flesh-eating” infection

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Six-year ordeal of hip surgery pensioner who developed “flesh-eating” infection

18th March 2013

A woman in her 70s who nearly died when she developed a flesh-eating infection after hip surgery, has won her clinical negligence case against the doctor who dismissed her as someone who was simply ‘unable to deal with pain.’

The pensioner has been left with her right leg four inches shorter than the left and reliant on crutches to get around, after the hip replacement operation she had six years ago led to her developing the life-threatening infection. Now, following a two-and-a-half-year legal battle, she has settled her case against the health authority for £250,000.

After the original procedure, the elderly woman had to have further operations when her hip didn’t heal correctly. Although she repeatedly told doctors she was in considerable pain and was not happy with the way her leg felt, she was told to go home. But when a health visitor insisted the woman return to hospital for examination several months later, alarmed doctors told her she could have been dead within days.

“My client was horrified when they told her she had a necrotising infection, which was just eating away the flesh around where she had the operation,” said Daniel Lee, a clinical negligence specialist with Fentons Solicitors, part of Slater & Gordon. “She had been telling the doctor for months that something wasn’t right, but he’d said she was just someone who couldn’t deal well with pain. After they took x-rays and did some tests, the doctors told my client she could be dead within three days if she wasn’t treated immediately with antibiotics.”

The woman’s ordeal began after a hip replacement operation she had just over six years ago. “For weeks afterwards her leg was very red and sore,” said Daniel. “After she endured weeks of pain and discomfort, they finally told her they would re-do the replacement.”

Further operations followed and the woman was sent home. “She still couldn’t get around, and was almost delirious with pain,” he said. “She was very concerned about what was happening to her. All she knew was that she was in pain and felt terrible.”

Things worsened when she returned to the hospital to see her consultant and told him how she was feeling. “She explained how painful it was, but the doctor was very dismissive and told her that she just couldn’t deal with the pain and that he’d keep an eye on it,” said Daniel. “He made her feel very small. She was still in the most awful pain, but the consultant said she was fine so she went home. After all, this was a surgeon who was supposedly the best in his field.”

Months later the woman was still in extreme pain and in December 2008, an x-ray revealed the hip was completely loose and her right leg had rotated. Another operation followed in March 2009, at which point she was told she had developed an infection and the entire hip replacement would need reconstructing.

“She was understandably scared when doctors said the surgery carried significant risks, but she was in so much pain and struggling just to get around that she had the operation,” said Daniel.

Because of all her surgery, it was arranged for the woman to receive help from the local community care service, who would visit her twice a day to help her wash, dress and fix meals. “A couple of weeks after the final operation, she was in unimaginable pain when the home help lady visited,” said Daniel. “The helper actually noticed her leg was starting to smell foul. She took one look and insisted my client go to the hospital immediately to be examined by another doctor.”

She was transferred to a specialist unit where she was seen by a new consultant. “She could tell from the look on his face as she was wheeled in on a stretcher that he couldn't believe what he was seeing,” said Daniel. “He told her that she would have to stay and be admitted, that she had a flesh-eating disease and that she may only have three days to live.”

Days later, she had a final operation during which the extent of the infection was revealed. “They had to remove the hip entirely, and take out all the tissue around it too,” said Daniel. “Now she has no hip joint. The bones rub together and she is in constant pain, she has to take painkillers every single day and can only get around using her crutches, sticks or a walking frame.”

Daniel pursued a clinical negligence case against the consultant and the Health Board on behalf of the elderly woman.

“The ordeal my client has been through this last six years is nothing short of disgraceful,” said Daniel. “She met with her consultant on numerous occasions and told him just how much pain and discomfort she was in, but he simply refused to believe her. Worse still, he chose to dismiss and even demean her by suggesting that she just couldn’t deal with what he said was the usual amount of pain.”

Daniel said the defendants had refused to admit liability for the woman’s situation until almost a year after the case was brought, had claimed part of the pain was caused by sciatica and even tried to prove that she was exaggerating her symptoms. “They indicated 18 months ago that they were keen to settle the case as soon as possible,” he said. “A year and half of fighting seems to show that wasn’t quite the case.”

Daniel said that before the operation, his client was a terribly independent person who had never needed to ask anyone for help. “After the surgery which was supposed to give her a new lease on life, she has done nothing but suffer continuous pain and face one challenge after another,” he said. “She has had to make changes to every major aspect of her life, from where she lives to how she gets around. She has had to move to a single-storey home and purchase a vehicle especially adapted for her to be able to drive, and is now totally reliant on crutches to walk anywhere, even in the home.”

Daniel said he was delighted that the Health Board had finally agreed to settle the claim for a significant level of damages. “My client has fought long and hard to get to this point, but her battle is not over,” he said. “She will continue to need rehabilitation, help and support for years to come, and I’m delighted that this substantial settlement means she will be able to focus all of her considerable energies on doing just that, without worrying about her financial security.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?

Fentons Solicitors has a specialist department experienced in handling claims involving all types of medical negligence, including injuries arising from surgical error.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.