Gordon, a former miner, died after surgeons damaged the blood supply to his kidneys during a routine operation. The operation left him with permanent damage to his kidneys and bowel after doctors made vital errors.
On 12th February 2013, Gordon Withers, from Northampton, was admitted to Northampton General Hospital to undergo surgery to repair a common iliac aneurysm – a bulging weakness in the main artery located in the pelvis.
During the procedure, a stent – a small mesh tube that is used to keep blocked passageways around the body open – was to be inserted into the artery at the point where it splits and supplies blood to each leg.
However, a catalogue of pre-surgical errors, including failure by the two doctors conducting the surgery to effectively communicate with one another, meant that the stent was placed too high and blocked the blood supply to Gordon’s kidneys.
Wrongly, it was initially believed that the surgery had been successful. But, over the following 24 hours, Gordon’s condition quickly deteriorated as his kidneys began to shut down due to the loss of blood supply. Eventually, staff recognised that Gordon had not passed water since the initial surgery – despite this being queried by his family with the staff nurse on the evening after his surgery – and an urgent scan was arranged.
The scan showed that the stent was in the wrong position and Gordon was taken back into theatre. Unfortunately, by the time the error was spotted, it was too late to save his kidneys.
Following a third operation on 17th February to investigate his bowel, doctors discovered that this organ had also suffered from a loss of blood supply, which had caused irreversible damage. At that point, Gordon had to have surgery to remove most of his bowel and an opening was created in his abdomen to remove waste. This was later reversed and Gordon was given a colostomy.
A further investigation revealed that one doctor incorrectly thought that Gordon only had 11 ribs – rather than the usual 12. But, despite the fact that a missing rib would raise the level of Gordon’s arteries and completely change the surgery, the doctor neglected to bring this up during the pre-operation meeting.
The damage to his internal organs was so severe that Gordon was told he would never be able to eat and digest food normally again. This meant all his meals would have to be fed through an intravenous tube permanently. Despite this being his main source of nutrients, and following an error by nursing staff to store this in the fridge over weekend, this meant that he had no food for 72 hours. He would also need to be on Haemodialysis – a procedure that replaces the function of the kidneys, cleaning and filtering the blood – three times a week for the rest of his life.
Overall, Gordon ended up undergoing five avoidable surgeries over a two week period while the doctors tried to repair their initial mistake.
Gordon was discharged from hospital 16 weeks after the initial surgery on the 6th June 2013, the day before his 70th birthday, and returned home to his wife Florence. As Florence struggles with severe arthritis, Gordon had previously taken over the running of the household. But, due to his own condition, he was no longer able to care for Florence in the same way.
Florence Withers, Gordon’s wife, said: “Before his operation, Gordon essentially acted as my carer. Because of my arthritis, my mobility isn’t good – I can get around the house but I need a wheelchair outside. Gordon used to help me get dressed, clean, and he’d be in charge of cooking all our meals. We expected that after Gordon’s operation, he would return to his old self and would be able to carry on providing care for me. Unfortunately, after all the problems with his surgery, he never could return to caring for me the way he had done before.”
Over the next year, Gordon’s condition failed to improve and he was rushed in and out of hospital several times. On 16th February 2014, he was taken into hospital to have his colostomy reversed, however during surgery, doctors realised that this could not be done and his stoma was left in place. But the stress of undergoing yet more surgery made Gordon even weaker, and on 17th June 2014, he passed away.
After realising that errors had been made with Gordon’s care, Florence contacted Fletchers to bring a claim against Northampton General Hospital.
The Hospital Trust made admissions and an offer to settle was made on 14th October 2015. Florence finally received £80,000 in compensation on 14th June 2017.
The letter of response from the hospital admitted that the damage to Gordon’s kidneys during the original operation fell below acceptable standards of care, and the eventual kidney failure that led to Gordon’s death was a result of the misplaced stent. If this had been spotted during the crucial 24 hour window after surgery, at least some of the damage could possibly have been repaired.
Throughout Gordon’s ordeal, Wayne Butler, Florence’s son, had to take on a lot of the family responsibilities and had previously moved the elderly couple into sheltered housing so they could receive the care they needed. Since Gordon’s death, Wayne has now become the main carer for his mother.
Wayne said: “The hospital’s complete lack of co-ordination or compassion has appalled me. I felt like I was left to sort everything out myself, and that the doctors just brushed over the mess they’d made – acting like we should just get over it and move on.
“This whole ordeal has had a devastating effect on my mum, who now lives on her own, and understandably gets lonely a lot of the time. I arranged for her to be moved into sheltered housing closer to me, so that I can do my bit to take care of her, but there’s only so much I can do. While Mum has grown a little stronger, she still does struggle without Gordon, who was essentially a full-time carer on top of being a loving husband. She still misses him terribly.”
“I have to say that Fletchers Solicitors has been fantastic throughout our case. The team were careful to explain everything thoroughly, and were by our side every step of the way.”
Michael Carson, a lawyer at Fletchers Solicitors, who dealt with the case said: “The hospital’s treatment of Gordon falls far below acceptable standards of care, and their negligence caused the last few months of his life to be spent in hospital, hooked up to machines – rather than with his wife. Of course, it’s not just Gordon who has been affected – his wife Florence has lost not just a devoted husband, but also her dedicated carer.
We’re so glad that we’ve managed to help get justice for Gordon’s family. We hope that with the support of her wonderful friends and family, Florence can begin to heal and come to terms with what has happened.Michael Carson