Was it an inexperienced doctor, unnecessary surgery or just bad luck? Which case won?
Patient consults GP and neurosurgeon after developing headaches
The patient was a 73-year-old man who was happy, fit and active. In early 2011, he began to experience headaches and consulted his GP for treatment.
After performing various diagnostic investigations which were found to be inconclusive, the man’s GP referred him to a neurosurgeon.
The man consulted the neurosurgeon, who identified on a CT scan that the man had a brain tumour. The surgeon took the view that the tumour could be removed endoscopically, without the need to open up the patient’s skull. The surgeon said that that this surgery would enable him to remove the tumour through the patient’s nose.
Patient agrees to endoscopic surgery to remove brain tumour
The man agreed to the surgical procedure proposed by the surgeon. While the surgeon had performed numerous brain tumour surgeries using different techniques, he had not performed surgery using this technique before.
Endoscopic surgery of this nature carried with it an inherent five to ten per cent chance of catastrophic complications.
Patient left with catastrophic complications following surgery
In March 2011, the man underwent the surgery proposed by the neurosurgeon. After the surgery, the man was left significantly impaired after what were described as catastrophic complications.
It was discovered that the man had suffered a haemorrhage in his brain. He underwent ten further surgeries to release the pressure around his brain from the bleeding and have a drain inserted into his skull.
After the surgery, the man’s injuries left him wheelchair bound. He had difficulty conversing, his weight dropped from 78 to 45 kilos, he had full vision only in one eye and he had difficulty sleeping at night. Whereas before the operation he had worked daily on the renovation of his home and had an active social life, after the surgery he could no longer drive or look after his garden.
He also suffered memory loss, cognitive decline and was no longer able to attend to his own personal care activities. One year following the surgery, the man was taught how to walk again and attend to some of his personal care tasks. Despite this, he still required considerable care and support from his family.
The patient and his wife sued the surgeon in the Supreme Court of NSW for medical negligence.