Matthew’s* story – Clinical negligence resulting in brain injury

Matthew* was a happy and healthy nine-year-old, who excelled at school and had a real zest for life. However, his life changed irrevocably when, in August 2011, he was admitted to hospital for an appendectomy.

The operation itself was a complete success but, during recovery, things did not go to plan. Matthew was unresponsive and was having trouble breathing but, despite this, the decision was taken to send him back up to the ward with a young, fairly inexperienced nurse and without monitoring equipment.

His mother, Catherine*, recalls: “His nostrils were flaring and there were signs that something was wrong but I presumed – wrongly as it turned out – that the doctors and nurses were in full control.  On arrival at the ward, the young nurse told a more senior nurse to go on her break and proceeded to try to attach a SATs probe to every finger and toe, but she couldn’t find Matthew’s pulse. As I looked on I thought – “he’s not breathing!” but, again, thought that she must know what she was doing” The nurse then began to panic and called the crash team, but she failed to properly monitor the time she called them or how long they took to reach Matthew .

When the crash team arrived, it took them a further 6 minutes to find the adrenalin. By the time Matthew was finally resuscitated he had suffered catastrophic brain damage.

Matthew was placed in intensive care in an induced coma where he remained for many weeks in an attempt to allow his brain to recover. Sadly this was to no avail and when he finally regained consciousness it was clear that the extent of his brain injury was extremely severe and permanent.

Catherine and her husband Adam* were advised by a senior consultant to take legal action which is still ongoing. They quite quickly received a full admission of liability from the hospital which, during the course of investigations, discovered that Matthew’s brain injury occurred due to a basic error in the operating theatre recovery room.

Catherine explained: “The anaesthetist failed to flush Matthew’s cannula to remove any leftover anaesthetic.  The error was then compounded because, rather than checking whether or not he was conscious and responsive, he was sent back to the ward. When the nurse, on the darkened ward, went to flush the cannula she overdosed him.

“The hospital was not able to say with certainty how long his heart and lungs had stopped but they estimate it was somewhere between 8 and 25 minutes.”

Permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as 4 to 6 minutes later, so it was against all odds that Matthew even survived.

Matthew spent many months in hospital and specialist rehabilitation units during which time Catherine and Adam set about finding a new home that could be specially adapted for their son’s very complex care needs. They finally found a suitable property for conversion, back in their home town, amongst friends.  The extent of Matthew’s injuries means that he needs a full-time specialist care team to look after his complex needs.

Catherine continued: “Matthew is now 14-years-old but cannot do anything for himself. He is not able to sit up or support himself, his vision has been severely affected, he cannot speak, he has a tracheostomy and he is unable to eat solid food so needs to be PEG tube fed. He has a humidifier attached to his tracheostomy at night and has to wear pads. He also sometimes requires oxygen. We are not certain how he has been affected cognitively although I fervently believe that he can hear and understand us.”

Finding a care team who could properly manage Matthew’s care needs was initially a frustrating process.

Catherine said: “We found one agency who were very good but were, frankly, just exorbitantly expensive.  Another agency assured me that they had a team who were experienced with tracheostomy, PEG feeding and children with complex needs.  They then sent in two girls who had never worked with children, nor seen either a feeding PEG or tracheostomy tube.  One of them had worked with the elderly in care homes, whilst her friend was a hairdresser.  They were supposed to be “shadowing” the carers who had Matthew, but spent the whole shift gossiping about their boyfriends.

“When we confronted the agency, they said we must be patient and they thought they would be perfect because they were “young and available”!  We responded that we may as well go down to the local bus stop and pick up anyone available there!

“The next person they sent had spent his whole career and training working with children with behavioural difficulties.  He took one look and said he couldn’t work with Matthew – at least he was honest!”

Catherine and Adam were finally put in touch with Almond Care who met with the family and set about putting together a specialist nursing and care team to fully meet his needs.

Catherine explained: “I immediately clicked with Almond’s director Julia; who came out to meet us. Julia has an extensive nursing background and she informed us that Arno, her husband and fellow director is a former paramedic so that reassured me. The team they have put in place are exceptional and we are extremely fortunate to have a number of very dedicated care specialists. They really are a great team. They work together seamlessly in two, twelve hour shift patterns, providing two-on-one care and they are all wonderful, highly professional individuals.

“Because they spend so much time in our home we have a relaxed and friendly relationship with them. We can have a laugh with them but when a job needs doing they snap back into professional mode in an instant. Matthew is the centre of our world and they are totally focussed on his care needs. Adam and I now feel able to take short respite breaks away from home, knowing that Matthew will be properly cared for. Although we will never again be able to close our front door and just be the three of us, the team make a hard situation a lot easier.

“In circumstances like ours, sadly you cannot turn back the clock and make everything better. We are having to deal with the situation as best we can and we certainly could not do this without a first class care team. Almond Care’s specialist nurses and carers have provided us with exemplary service and I would have no hesitation in recommending them as an agency to others.”

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