Tumour missed four times

By Heather McCracken

Rare condition outside experience of emergency department staff, says hospital

Gerlaine and Jason Moult with son Ethan. Gerlaine's tumour was misdiagnosed as stress. Photo / Richard Robinson
Gerlaine and Jason Moult with son Ethan. Gerlaine's tumour was misdiagnosed as stress. Photo / Richard Robinson

A woman with a life-threatening spinal tumour was told by staff she was just stressed and needed to take a "long holiday".

Gerlaine Moult, 32, eventually paid $2500 for a private MRI which revealed the 5cm by 7cm tumour.

That was after four visits to Middlemore Hospital's emergency department over four months, with symptoms including severe headaches, a stiff neck, difficulty urinating, neck spasms, numbness and weakness down one side.

"They just told me it was the stress that had seized my neck muscles completely and it would take some time to get the movement back," said Mrs Moult, of Pukekohe.

By August 2011, she was dragging one leg and had lost feeling on one side. "I can't even explain the pain, it was so horrific," she said.

At her husband Jason's birthday party on August 27 she had to be carried to the toilet.

"She looked like somebody who'd had a stroke, her leg was dragging, she couldn't feel anything in her body," Mr Moult said.

Two days later a GP referred her for an urgent MRI. "What frustrated us was a doctor diagnosed her in five minutes and we'd been fighting for four months," Mr Moult said.

Mrs Moult's surgery at Auckland City Hospital left her paralysed, unable to walk. She spent four weeks in hospital, two weeks at a spinal rehab unit and had six weeks of radiation. "I promised myself that I'd walk out of radiation and I did."

A month ago another small tumour was removed from her brain.

Mrs Moult said she still felt no one had taken responsibility. "I got misdiagnosed by people you should trust. If you can't go to ED and get proper care, where can you go?"

Her ACC claim for a treatment injury has been turned down because ACC found the delay in diagnosis had not affected the outcome.

But she believes her ongoing muscle weakness and lack of sensation could have been avoided. "If I'd been diagnosed earlier I wouldn't have had to work so hard for the next year and a half to walk again."

Counties Manukau District Health Board acknowledged Mrs Moult's care at its emergency room didn't meet its standards, and apologised. The board also refunded the cost of the MRI.

Chief medical officer Dr Gloria Johnson said several changes were made following an investigation.

"We sincerely regret the delay in diagnosing Mrs Moult's condition and are very sorry for the impact of this on Mrs Moult and her family."

Dr Johnson said Mrs Moult's condition was rare and outside the experience of the staff who saw her.

- APNZ

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