Teenage girl was at death’s door after botched operation


A teenager was left “hours from death” after a routine operation to remove her gall-bladder by keyhole surgery at the Gilbert Bain Hospital went drastically wrong.

Megan Sales, 16, had to be flown by air ambulance to Aberdeen for emergency treatment after the surgeon treating her in Lerwick left her with life-threatening injuries to her bile duct and caused damage to her stomach, liver and kidney.

Her worried parents Paula and Ian looked after her for two days after she was discharged from the Gilbert Bain and had to wait for 13 and a half hours as she underwent major corrective surgery at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

The family, of Ingaville Road in Scalloway, are now seeking answers as to how the seemingly straightforward procedure could have gone so badly awry.

They are considering taking legal action against NHS Shetland, and fear the botched operation could have long-term implications for Megan’s future.

The problem began when Megan went in to hospital early last month for the seemingly straightforward gall-bladder removal.

The mistakes made during surgery went unnoticed, and the day after surgery Megan began to feel such “excruciating pain” that she could hardly speak and had to communicate with her shocked parents by using hand signals.

As a result she was kept in hospital for a second night and screamed in agony the next day when inspected by a junior doctor.

“When we went in to see her she was bent double and could hardly speak,” said Mrs Sales.

“A junior doctor came to see her and examined Megan’s stomach. She literally screamed – she couldn’t let him touch her.”

Despite the family’s concerns, Megan was discharged, although her mother said she was still running a temperature and had been passing blood in her urine, indicating she had suffered internal bleeding.

Once home the teenager took to her bed. But her family went through two sleepless nights as Megan endured continual pain.

She was prescribed strong pain-killers, but eventually had to call her mother through for help after fluid began weeping from the wound caused by her surgery.

“I had to be up with her all of Thursday night and all of Friday night. I had to sit by her bedside because she was petrified if she fell asleep she wasn’t going to wake up again,” her mother said.

“On the Saturday morning she shouted me through. She was lying on her right side, and when I lifted the covers her wound was leaking. “I phoned NHS 24 and said, ‘there’s something serious – we have to get her to hospital’. They said they’d get a doctor to phone back in an hour. I said, ‘forget that’ and phoned 999 to get an ambulance.”

Once the family arrived back at the Gilbert Bain, Megan was seen by the surgeon who carried out the initial operation on her.

He wanted to operate on her immediately. However the air ambulance was contacted and she was flown to Aberdeen.

Mrs Sales barely had time to organise overnight accommodation for her and her husband before she learned her daughter had already gone in to surgery.

“As soon as we hit Aberdeen the anaesthetist was there and all the medical staff. She was taken straight to the assessment room because her wound was still weeping.”

She described medical and surgical staff in Aberdeen as “fantastic”, but said she had been shocked when they admitted they could not guarantee Megan would survive the four intensive operations she was about to undergo.

She was told if the family had arrived just a few hours later Megan’s injuries could easily have proved fatal.

“I said to the surgeon, ‘just tell me she’s going to be okay’, and he said, ‘I can’t tell you that’.

“I just burst into tears. I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the fact he was telling me she might not survive. I couldn’t believe she could go in for a simple gall-bladder operation and end up in this position. The fact I’d not gotten in to see her before she went to surgery nearly killed me as well.”

Mr Sales said he had been so shocked by the experience he was left speechless. “I just couldn’t speak,” he said.

They were told to get some rest, as the surgery Megan would have to go through would take hours to complete. Eventually they were contacted and told their daughter was in recovery and was being looked after in the intensive care unit.

The couple kept a bedside vigil with her for two weeks before they were finally allowed home on Sunday.

Although relieved, Mrs Sales said Megan had to endure more than just physical scars.

“She’s got youth on her side, but she is very emotional. She has moods all over the place. The consultants had been honest with her, and told her she only had a matter of hours and not days when she was taken into hospital.

“Now we need answers. We’ve been running on adrenaline for the last two weeks. Some of the family have had her room redecorated for her coming back, but Ian has been cleaning the house from top to bottom because there is a risk of infection.”

She said Megan, who is soon due to return to clinic in Aberdeen for a check-up, will have to endure regular blood tests for the rest of her life.

“They’ve had to do a major by-pass operation and have to keep an eye on her liver and kidney function. It could be years before we know if the operation has been successful.”

Megan, who had harboured ambitions to work with horses, was due to start a training course at the Bridges Project in Lerwick’s Hillhead, but has had to put her aspirations on hold because of the operation.

The teenager, who bears her troubles incredibly well for someone who has suffered a near-death experience, said she has “good days and bad days”, but admitted “it’s going to be a life-changing thing”.

“What they did to me made me mad more than upset. But the care I got down in Aberdeen was brilliant.”

Medical director of NHS Shetland Ken Graham said: “All operations carry a risk and even in very expert hands sometimes operations don’t go as well as we might expect and occasionally people have complications in surgery.”


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