A hospital has admitted being at fault for the death of a patient after a surgeon mistakenly implanted a heart valve the wrong way up.
Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has admitted the error – at the renowned Freeman Hospital in Newcastle – caused the death of 71-year-old Sheila Mary Hynes, following what should have been routine surgery.
Ms Hynes never woke from the operation, with the mistake causing irreversible damage to the left ventricle and her heart. She died in intensive care a week later, after a second operation to try and get her heart working again failed.
Ms Hynes’ family say the error robbed them of a ‘wonderful mum, grandmother and great-grandmother’ who’d been full of life and ‘looking stunning’ when visiting her sister in Tenerife just a week earlier.
They sought specialist advice from Hudgell Solicitors in relation to Ms Hynes death, leading to the admissions of the fatal error.
Inquest will examine circumstances of death under Human Rights Act
Clinical negligence solicitor Nicola Evans, of Hudgell Solicitors, believes it was a case in which neglect was so bad that Ms Hynes’ right to life was breached.
She said: “This is an absolutely shocking case. A family has been robbed of a much loved mother, grandmother and great grandmother simply because a surgeon has not taken the care to ensure he has fitted a heart valve the right way up.
“It is pretty much beyond belief that such a basic, life-threatening error can happen. Surgeons are aware of the catastrophic results of mistakes such as this, and in this case it has cost a woman her life.
“The principle post mortem findings were that Ms Hynes died from extensive obstruction of the heart muscle and a tear of the left ventricular, which were a result of the error made. She had plenty to live for. Apart from being short of breath at times, which this operation was to solve, she was healthy and happy and had years to look forward to with her family.
“Such was the scale of this error, we applied for the Inquest into Ms Hynes death to have further scope to investigate the circumstances under the Human Rights Act, which has been agreed by the Coroner.
“We strongly feel there are possible wider implications as a result of this case and for future learning, and hopefully that can be the positive to come from such tragic circumstances.”
Loss of mother and grandmother devastated family
Ms Hynes daughter, Jan Hopper, 55, of Haltwhistle, Northumberland, said: “I can honestly say what happened to my mother, and what has happened since she died, has destroyed my life.
“My mother was in Tenerife with us just the week before her operation as we were visiting her sister Carol, who had sadly been diagnosed with cancer. My mother was the picture of health that week.
“A week later, due to the mistakes of the so-called experts, she died simply because a surgeon hadn’t taken the care to put the replacement heart valve she’d gone in for the right way up. It is beyond belief.”
Ms Hynes’ family were confident all would go as planned at the Freeman Hospital has made headlines over the years for its pioneering surgery. It performed the UK’s first successful heart transplant for a child, and is recognised as one of Europe’s leading lung transplant centres.
“My mum had narrowing valves and she’d struggled with her breathing for some time, so that is why she was having the operation,” her daughter recalled.
“She was a bit nervous about it but we all rallied around her and told her she’d be much happier with it done. It was the only thing impacting on her heath and the prognosis was that after a short period of recovery she’d be better and fitter than ever. We told her that she had nothing to worry about and that she was going to the Freeman Hospital which was known for its transplants and heart surgery.
“Now I wish we’d never encouraged her as she’d still be with us now. She chose to have the surgery and was only expected to be in hospital about 10 days to recover, but she never woke up again.”
Family sought legal advice after feeling ‘left in dark’ about full circumstances
Ms Hopper says her family members sought legal support having been left feeling ‘in the dark’ as to exactly what happened and how it went wrong by hospital staff.
She said they were first alerted to problems on the evening of the operation, performed by Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon Mr Asif Raza Shah, when they were called in from home because of ‘complications’.
“The surgeon then came down and even he said he didn’t know why she was bleeding so badly, but he said they were effectively putting her on life support to give her heart a rest and to prevent it having to work too hard given what it had been through. We were told my mam was lucky as they said she had a ‘very strong heart with no disease’,” Ms Hopper said.
Despite this, Ms Hynes never regained consciousness and died on April 2 2015.
“They hardly told us anything and as a family we felt completely ignored and left in the dark completely. They initially just said she’d lost a lot of blood,” said Ms Hopper
“It was a couple of days later, when we were talking to a doctor, that he mentioned my mam’s heart being ‘injured’. This was the first time we’d heard of any injury, and when we questioned him he mentioned it being punctured. We were obviously angry as this was the first we’d heard of this.
“Then, when my son stayed with my mam overnight someone mentioned to him that the heart valve had been placed upside down in the operation. Again, this made us feel like we’d been kept in the dark until that point and we were furious and now suspicious as to what happened.”
“We were told that putting the heart valve on the wrong way had caused her heart to balloon up and expand, and then when it contracted the wall of her heart was pierced on an instrument.”
Since losing their mother, Ms Hynes’ children have fought to hold those responsible to account.
The full details of exactly what went wrong on March 26, 2015, are yet to be heard in court, but will be covered in the inquest into Ms Hynes death later this year.