Victory after 15 years but mum fights on

By Chloe Johnson

Gillian Player says she loves her son Riley, aged 6, but the unexpected pregnancy that led to his birth "screwed my life up". Photo / Martin Hunter
Gillian Player says she loves her son Riley, aged 6, but the unexpected pregnancy that led to his birth "screwed my life up". Photo / Martin Hunter

A grandmother who fell pregnant after a surgeon clamped her bladder instead of a fallopian tube has been granted ACC compensation - 15 years on.

But Gillian Player says the compensation for the nine months of her pregnancy is not enough, and she plans to seek further money for the six years she says she has lost to being a mum again late in life.

She says she loves her son Riley, but the unexpected pregnancy "screwed my life up".

After being repeatedly rebuffed in her legal bids for compensation, a Supreme Court ruling last year opened the door to compensation.

In 1998, Player had an operation at Dunedin Hospital to have her tubes tied, seven weeks after giving birth to her third child.

A High Court statement of claim, obtained by the Herald on Sunday, says the surgeon placed a tie on Player's bladder instead of her right fallopian tube.

In 2005, seven years after the operation, she again fell pregnant. Unbeknown to her, she was in the early weeks of her late-life pregnancy at the same time as she became a grandmother for the first time.

Player said she found out she was 31 weeks pregnant after visiting the doctor for stomach pains.

The solo mother, from Christchurch, did not realise she was pregnant because she had regular periods and did not gain a lot of weight. She also thought her tubes had been tied.

"The doctor initially said I had a tumour but then she said there was a heartbeat," Player said. "I just fell to bits. It was the biggest shock of my life."

Nine weeks before giving birth she had to choose whether to keep her child or give him up for adoption.

She said the baby's father left and she suffered from depression and anxiety. She quit work, went on a benefit and moved into a run-down council flat. "There are a lot of cruel people. No matter which way I went, I would have got hell from society about my decision," she said.

Player lodged a claim for ACC compensation, but later that year the agency refused her claim because pregnancy was not considered an accident or injury.

Her lawyer Peter Sara said they sought a review, which ruled the pregnancy was an injury caused by medical misadventure and, therefore, should be covered.

But ACC appealed that decision and a District Court judge overturned the ruling.

Sara said they had been preparing papers last year to sue Dunedin Hospital and the surgeon for $755,000, claiming negligence, when news came through of a Supreme Court judgment in favour of another woman. In that case, a judge ruled pregnancy from failed sterilisation was an accident and should be covered by ACC.

As a result of that ruling, Player's ACC claim was finally accepted. But ACC offered compensation only for the time she was pregnant.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said the agency's position was that cover extended only to the physical effects and mental consequences of pregnancy and childbirth on the mother, and not to the costs of raising a child.

That was because the pregnancy, not the child, was regarded as the personal injury.

Player does not believe that decision goes far enough, and is preparing to file new court papers.

"The reason she cannot work is because she had a baby which she didn't want or plan," said Peter Sara.

The surgeon did not respond to calls from the Herald on Sunday.

The Southern District Health Board's medical director of patient services, Richard Bunton, said: "The Southern DHB understands the distress felt by Ms Player. We endeavour to provide the best possible care to patients. However, it is not appropriate to comment further while this matter is being considered by ACC."

Life of Riley

• 1998 - Tubal ligation operation using Filshie Clips.

• 2005 - Gillian Player finds out she is 31 weeks pregnant.

• 2006 - Player gives birth to her son by caesarean section.

• 2006 - ACC claim declined on basis pregnancy was not an accident or injury.

• 2007 - ACC overturns the decision.

• 2010 - ACC ruling is overturned again.

• 2012 - Lawyers prepare a case to sue Dunedin Hospital and the surgeon.

• 2013 - ACC grants compensation for the months of the pregnancy only, but Player's lawyers reserve the right to take further legal action.

- Herald on Sunday

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