Stawell Hospital being sued for negligence over potentially fatal blood clots and DVT after major abdominal surgery with inadequate

A Victorian woman is suing Grampians Health over avoidable blood clots she developed following a hysterectomy at Stawell hospital in 2017.

Katrina Repper, 41, claims Stawell Regional Hospital was negligent by failing to follow the surgeon’s orders regarding the administration of post-operative anticoagulants (blood thinners), or provide her with appropriate instructions about clot risks or prevention before she was discharged.

She claims that due to the hospital’s poor post-operative management, she unwittingly developed blood clots, which worsened in the weeks that followed her surgery and led to an emergency department visit for intense back pain and breathlessness.

Ms Repper claims she was misdiagnosed at the emergency visit and sent home, despite suffering life-threatening blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.

A statement of claim filed in the Victorian Supreme Court alleges that the emergency doctor failed to follow reasonable medical practice by ordering blood tests and scans to rule out a pulmonary embolism or put her on blood-thinning medication. She was instead misdiagnosed with diverticulitis – an inflammation of the digestive tract – prescribed antibiotics and sent home.

Ms Repper saw her GP three days later after the pain worsened and she was ordered back to Stawell hospital for an urgent CT scan. It revealed she had multiple blood clots, including one that was travelling in and out of her heart. She was transferred to the Ballarat Base Hospital before being rushed to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where she remained in ICU until the threat of the dangerous clots subsided.

Subsequent investigations by Shari Liby, Medical Law Principal at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, revealed that nursing staff had failed to follow the surgeon’s post-operative orders to administer daily doses of a blood-thinner, resulting in her only receiving a single dose.

It is also alleged that she was not warned about the importance of mobilisation and wearing compression stockings for at least two weeks after she was discharged following surgery to minimise the risk of blood clots.

Ms Liby said her client now suffered from a serious psychological injury due to her experience: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

“We believe none of this would have happened had Ms Repper received reasonable medical care at Stawell hospital in the days after her surgery and when she first presented to emergency,” Ms Liby said.

“Hospital staff had a duty of care to follow the surgeon’s post-operative instructions by providing daily injections of the anticoagulation medication, Clexane. The hospital’s own records reflect that only one dose was given.

“Similarly, discussions about clot-risk and the importance of TED stockings and mobility to patients who have undergone major abdominal surgery are critical prior to them being discharged. Patients and their families need to know what to do and what to look out for each time they are sent home from hospital.

“It is well known that risk factors for a pulmonary embolism and DVT include recent surgery and immobility. When she presented to the ED with breathlessness, a common sign of a pulmonary embolism just two weeks post-surgery, that potential diagnosis should have been near the top of the list. The doctor charged with her care should have taken reasonable steps to diagnose or rule this out,” she said.

“A blood test or a chest scan was all it would have taken to have diagnosed things before they got worse. The hospital’s failure in this regard was below the standard reasonable expected of any emergency department in this country. Regional Victorians deserve better.”

She said her client was a young mum of three and feared the worst as she was being transferred via ambulance with lights and sirens to a Melbourne hospital for critical treatment.

“She thought she was never going to see her kids again. She has been left with a terrible fear of developing a fatal blood clot and has lost all trust in the medical profession after being let down so terribly,” she said.

Ms Repper said she thought she was going to die after being told a blood clot was entering her heart.

“I’ve been told it was a large clot and I was in a lot of pain and very scared,” she said. “I thought I was going to die and leave my kids without a mum because nobody had listened to me.

“Before this happened, I had complete trust in the medical community. I went to them when I was sick. I had trust in them and thought they knew what they were doing, but that has changed forever now,” she said.

“I no longer trust doctors or anyone in the medical profession to make the right decisions in regard to mine or my family’s health. And worse, I also don’t trust myself anymore to make those decisions, either.”

Ms Repper said she now experiences regular panic attacks and worries that similar errors could be made if she didn’t take legal action to hold those responsible to account.

“This is why I have filed a claim against the hospital. I need them to understand how their mistakes have affected me, accept responsibility for those mistakes, and make changes so that no other family goes through what we have.”

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