Anna White- Left Locked In After Appendix Surgery Went Wrong
Anna White was a determined, outgoing 15-year-old with ambitions to become a midwife when she was admitted to the Royal Albert Edward infirmary, Wigan, for appendix surgery in 2011. But despite the routine nature of the procedure, the teenager was left unable to walk or talk after her brain was starved of oxygen due to complications following the surgery.
Now 19, White requires round-the-clock care and communicates by looking at letters on a board to spell out words. Her intellectual capacity is unimpaired but doctors say she faces being “locked in” her body for the rest of her life.
Speaking exclusively for a film made by the Guardian from their home in Wigan, her mother Donna White described Anna as a typical teenager before the surgery. “She was sporty. Loved her life. Very outgoing, very glamorous, very determined.” She was once a keen gymnast and karate brown belt before her surgery in September 2011.
The operation appeared to go well, but in recovery Anna suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. The lack of oxygen moving to her brain caused serious damage, leaving her with profound disabilities.
The Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS foundation trust, which manages the hospital, has since admitted that the tube delivering anaesthetic to Anna was not flushed out after use and a small dose of the drug was left inside it. When fluids were administered to Anna following the surgery through the same tube, the remaining anaesthetic was inadvertently delivered into her body, causing her to suffer a sudden respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest.
Donna noticed Anna was convulsing in recovery. “I asked the nurse what was wrong and why she was twitchy. She asked me to go for a cup of tea. When I was walking back to the ward the anaesthetist ran past me,” she said. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I think it was the third person afterwards who told me she had had a cardiac arrest.” The Whites say they were only told of the reason for Anna’s injuries after she had been in hospital for over five months.
Anna says she often thinks about what would have been had the mistake not occurred. “I would be living my life,” she spelled out, using eye movements. She is now unable to get out of bed or move from her wheelchair without specialist equipment, and cannot wash or feed herself unaided. Donna has had to give up her work as a cleaner to provide her daughter with the care she needs. “It’s like having a newborn baby. Everything a newborn baby needs, that’s what I do now,” she said.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited the Royal Albert Edward infirmary in the months following Anna’s surgery hospital because they “… had concerns about some serious incidents that had happened within the operating theatres.” In a report released in November 2012, they wrote: “These incidents occurred because internationally recommended checklists were not being completely followed on some occasions. We found that systems had improved within the operating theatres where the serious incidents had taken place. However, some theatre staff told us that they did not always get the required level of support from some of the surgeons.”
Since then, the CQC has reported significant improvements at the infirmary although recent monitoring on the hospital, from May 2015, found that there was an elevated risk of “never events” – serious incidents that are wholly preventable should guidance or safety recommendations available at a national level be implemented.
“Anna’s case is heart-rending because it was a simple mistake but it brings such devastating consequences for her,” said Brendan Hope, a criminal negligence specialist at law firm Slater and Gordon, who is representing the Whites in their case against the trust. “Anna has some help from the local authority but it’s just a few hours a day. The consequences of these injuries tend to fall on families. Donna has stepped up to the plate in this case, but it brings an awful lot of stress. It’s very important to have financial compensation so that Anna can have the care regime she needs.”
The Whites know that no sum of money will give Anna her life back. Asked what she misses most about her daughter before the surgery, Donna immediately replied: “Her voice. Even if it’s just telling me off for something or disapproving of something. Just her voice.”
In a statement to the Guardian, the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS foundation trust admitted that “the care it provided to Anna White fell below an acceptable standard, and has apologised unreservedly to Ms White for this. The trust has implemented a number of changes to eliminate the possibility of this type of failing occurring in the future.
“Given that legal proceedings in relation to this care are ongoing, the trust is unable to offer further comment at this stage.”