Medical Negligence

Woman left unable to bear sunlight after laser surgery error

Joanne at seaside

Lauren Dale

Head of Risk & Compliance & Associate Solicitor

6 min read time

A woman has been awarded damages after laser surgery on her eye was mistakenly carried out too low, leaving her with a ‘large open hole’ and unable to bear sunlight.

Joanne Hartley has been left so sensitive to light in her right eye that she now has to wear wraparound sunglasses when watching television or using a smartphone, or when the main ceiling light is on in her living room.

She has also been left unable to drive in the dark as she is blinded by the headlights of cars coming the other way.

Mrs Hartley had been referred for surgery as she had ‘narrow angles’ in her eyes – a common condition in which fluids don’t drain normally from the eye and cause pressure to build, leading to headaches and pain.

The issue is commonly resolved through laser surgery as a small hole is made at the top of the iris to help the fluid drain better, with the hole covered by the eye lid when the eyes are open.

However, Mrs Hartley says she immediately feared something had gone wrong following her surgery at Hull Royal Infirmary Eye Hospital in March 2016, as her ‘head was pounding’ and ‘everything seemed so bright’.

She said: “I was light sensitive as soon as I had the procedure and I have suffered every day since. When we got home I had to go straight to bed. My vision was very blurred and my head was pounding. I felt terrible.

“The only advice I was given was that my sight would be blurred initially and would be improved after a few hours. I wish I’d never had the surgery now, but I wasn’t really presented with any other option.”

Error was admitted in review meeting four weeks after surgery

Although Mrs Hartley was initially advised that the procedure had gone well, she continued to suffer severe headaches and from pain in her eyes in the light. At a review meeting at the hospital four weeks after the surgery, her worst fears were confirmed.

“I saw a different doctor to the one who had performed the procedure on me and I told her how I was not feeling well, had terrible frequent headaches, how everything was so bright and that it was so bad I was struggling to even watch the television,” she recalled.

“She said unfortunately the laser surgery had been far too low in the right eye and this was permanent. I remember feeling scared.”

Worried about the impact of the error, Mrs Hartley, who was 47 at the time, sought a second opinion from a private healthcare provider and was told that she also needed the surgery doing again on her left eye, as that had not been successful either.

“He said he had never seen anything like it and said the laser had also gone too far on my left eye, and that had it gone through one more layer I would have been left blind in that eye.” she said.

“It was frightening to know just how much danger I had been in when I thought I was in the best possible hands.”

Wraparound sunglasses vital to protect from pain caused by light

Mrs Hartley firstly wore colour contact lenses provided by the hospital, but said they were uncomfortable and made her feel self-conscious, so much so that she wore her hair in a fringe to cover her left eye.

Now aged 53, she either wears wraparound sunglasses or specialist lenses which are more aesthetically pleasing and provide a better barrier from the light.

“I have been told I have been left in a position like having two pupils, so when I am out and about in bright artificial light or in bright sunlight I have to wear the wraparound sunglasses to protect my eyes, if I don’t the sun is like a spider effect across my eyes. The sunlight and any bright light is blinding and debilitating.

“The wrap around glasses provide protection around the side of my eye as well as the front so they block out the blue light and allow me to use computers and smartphones more easily. They also help when I am watching the TV.

“At home I would never have the main ceiling light on, I have lamps placed around the house for softer lighting that I can tolerate. I can’t tolerate headlights when driving either so I have become reliant on taxis or my husband driving me. It has really impacted on my quality of life.

“I used to think my eyes were my best feature but now I live my life behind the wraparound glasses. I just feel angry that it happened. In my view the woman who did this to me should never had had a laser in her hand.”

Trust admitted substandard procedure and offered damages settlement

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust admitted the procedure had been substandard and performed in the wrong place. It also admitted the surgery on Mrs Hartley’s left eye had not been to standard, leading to it having to be performed again.

Solicitor Lauren Dale, of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “This was a procedure which was supposed to be straight forward and uncomplicated and relieve Mrs Hartley of the headaches and pain she had been suffering.

“The error has had a life-changing impact on her and her husband as she constantly has to live with her light sensitivity, pain and discomfort.

“She still suffers with headaches and the most common cause is bright sunshine or bright light, and this means that she cannot enjoy simple pleasures like enjoying a sunny day in her garden. She is affected by this every day and her whole life has changed forever.

“She wishes she could turn back the clock and not have had procedure done, but that should never have to be the case. This was a commonly carried out procedure which should have improved her quality of life and not had such a devastating impact.

“We are glad that Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust recognised the significance of the error made and its impact on Joanne’s life in the settlement offered and agreed. She now wants to put this difficult few years behind her.”

Mrs Hartley added: “I can’t praise Lauren and Hudgell Solicitors enough for their support. Lauren has been very understanding of how difficult this has been for me all the way through and supportive at all times. She has been really exceptional.”

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