A grandmother, whose dream holiday turned into a living nightmare when she was given just 48 hours to live unless she had a major operation, is suing insurance giant Virgin for medical costs incurred.
Penelope Southern, 57, from Medstead, Hampshire, was on holiday with her family in Crete when a gastro-intestinal virus led to her bowel being strangulated. She was rushed to a local hospital where medics told her that she could die unless she underwent surgery within 48 hours.
But just hours before the operation, her insurers Virgin pulled the plug on funding the surgery – leaving her distraught family to find cash to pay for the £20,000 operation.
Virgin claims its refusal to pay for the surgery is due to Mrs Southern’s previous medical history. In September 2009 she had suffered ovarian cancer.
Now, Mrs Southern – who underwent months of medical care having returned from her holiday – has instructed Neil Hudgell Solicitors to pursue a claim for breach of contract against Virgin to recoup the £20,000 cost of the emergency medical treatment.
Her nightmare began when she flew out to Crete in April last year with her ex-husband Christopher, 59; her daughter Kerry, 32; Kerry’s partner Bill, 38; and Kerry’s children Callum, one and Paige, seven months.
Within days, Christopher suffered from vomiting and Kerry, Callum and Paige picked up the bug as well.
Penelope thought she’d escaped the illness, but one week into their luxury holiday she was rushed into hospital in immense pain. She was diagnosed with a strangulated bowel and told that unless she had an operation within 48 hours she may well die.
She explains: “The medics were very good and realised straightaway how seriously ill I was. They told me I desperately needed an operation, but as I was preparing to go into the operating theatre, a hospital administrator came in and told me that the insurance company wouldn’t pay for the surgery and so my operation would have to be cancelled.
“We’d already been told that the operation needed to be done within 48 hours and so my family was devastated when it was cancelled. I was drifting in and out of consciousness due to the immense pain I was in and Kerry was crying.”
Desperate for any help she could get, Kerry eventually issued an urgent plea to her friends on the social networking site Facebook. A family friend came to the rescue and offered them the money as a loan to allow the operation to go ahead.
Penelope, whose poor health means she is now unable to work, continues: “Whilst the medics did all they could, the insurers Virgin offered us no support at all. They effectively abandoned me.
“When Virgin refused to pay for my operation, the company said that my condition was due to the fact I’d suffered cancer in the past. However, I’ve got medical notes which confirm there was no link whatsoever with my previous medical history.”
She concludes: “The past few months have been a living hell. Now that I’ve instructed Neil Hudgell Solicitors to manage my case, I hope matters will be resolved quickly and I can get on with my life.”
Andrew Petherbridge, of Neil Hudgell Solicitors, who is handling Penny’s case, comments: “This was an extremely traumatic experience for Mrs Southern. We hope to be able to quickly reach a settlement to secure compensation for her to repay the loan.”
Virgin declined to comment.