Elderly woman life ruined after unwanted heart surgery

By Sarah Harris

An elderly woman says her life has been stripped of joy after a medical mishap left her with multiple health problems.

Mihi Ellis, 76, says she only found out about the mistake after a niece, a former nurse, saw large bandages over her chest and asked when she had heart surgery. She said she had gone in for a smaller procedure which wouldn't have required such a large incision, and the recovery time wouldn't have been as long.

The mishap is the subject of two investigations.

The Herald on Sunday reported yesterday that hospital officials were locked in a dispute with a family who wanted a free car and home modifications to compensate for the error.

Ellis' family, who have laid a formal complaint with the Health and Disability Commissioner, approached the Herald after seeing the article, saying they wanted to share their side of the story.

Speaking at the Kelston home she shares with her family, Ellis said two months ago she went to North Shore Hospital to get a dialysis catheter line in her chest because of her diabetes.

Her niece, Te Papuni, said that when she went to visit her aunt after the operation - which requires a small incision in the chest - she saw large bandages and assumed she must have also had heart surgery.

Ellis told her she hadn't and Papuni inquired with a nurse, who she claims told her a junior doctor had accidently sliced the jugular and nicked the aorta arteries.

Papuni said she was told Ellis was rushed to Auckland City Hospital where a senior surgeon repaired her heart, which involved breaking the sternum. She was then taken back to North Shore where she woke up.

Ellis ended up in hospital for seven weeks with health problems, Papuni said. While in recovery, she contracted a superbug and was put into isolation for three weeks at North Shore Hospital before being released on August 26, she said.

Ellis' family say a doctor told them there was a complication during her planned surgery, but they claim they were not told about the arteries being cut, the heart operation nor the fact she had to be rushed to another hospital.

I sit in my chair all day long and watch TV. I get tired very quickly.
Mihi Ellis

They also say Ellis was not given a post-operative plan for the unexpected surgery.

Waitemata District Health Board chief medical officer Dr Andrew Brant said the DHB was conducting a full investigation. "The patient was informed of this possible complication prior to undergoing the procedure and gave appropriate consent. The patient was advised after the complication had occurred."

He said there had been multiple family meetings "and we continue to work closely with the patient and her family to meet clinical and home-based recovery needs".

"We are working actively with the family to address the concerns that they have raised and will respond with our findings to the patient and her family in the first instance. We take these matters extremely seriously as part of our commitment to providing a quality patient experience as well as the best clinical care."

Waitemata had one of the lowest rates of complaints per 100,000 discharges of all DHBs, Brant said.

When asked if Ellis and her family were told what the complication was, a hospital spokeswoman said: "After the complication occurred the patient was advised and staff actively contacted family members."

The spokeswoman said a plan was put in place when Ellis was discharged to North Shore Hospital following the unplanned surgery.

Ellis said she was very active before the operation - she helped the homeless, raised funds for her church, did her own shopping, cooking and cleaning and kept pace with a busy social life. Now she can't even walk up the stairs.

"Life's boring now. I can't leave. I sit in my chair all day long and watch TV. I get tired very quickly."

Ellis said she didn't have a "hope in hell" of regaining her old health.

Papuni said she was shocked her aunt wasn't informed and concerned that a post-operative plan wasn't put in place. She said it would take about seven months for Ellis' sternum to fuse back together.

Papuni wanted the registrar to be suspended pending an investigation.

In response to the claims that the family wanted a car and home renovations as compensation, the family told the Herald they did not want a new car but in the future a van to help Ellis gain independence.

As for the renovations, they said Ellis needed a modified bed and shower to help her get in and out.

The source had also said tensions between the family and the DHB increased and the family had at one point refused to allow Ellis to be discharged. The family confirmed the statement and said they didn't think she was well enough. They were unaware of a claim that no female nurses were to deal with the family.

The family said a Waitemata DHB needs assessment came up with a long list of things Ellis needed help with, including meal preparation, shopping, housework, transport, showering and dressing.

- NZ Herald

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