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Hospital blunder left Cumbrian mum brain damaged

A Cumbrian mum suffered catastrophic brain damage after doctors negligently gave her a massive overdose of a labour-inducing drug.

Nicola Crelling and her husband Steven

Nicola Crelling was just 27 and seven months pregnant with her fourth child when medics at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital gave her the tragic news that her baby had died in her womb.

To induce labour and retrieve the foetus, they gave her 2,000 micrograms of misoprostol, a drug designed for treating ulcers.

One expert later estimated this was up to 32 times the safe dose.

Within hours, Nicola suffered a ruptured uterus and a heart attack as fluid from her womb entered her bloodstream and flooded her brain, starving it of oxygen.

She is now so severely brain damaged she cannot walk, talk, or do anything for herself. She will need full-time care for the rest of her life.

A High Court judge in Preston approved an interim damages payment of £750,000 after hearing that the NHS trust which runs the hospital had admitted it was medically negligent.

The final damages award is likely to run into several million.

The judge’s ruling was witnessed by Nicola’s heartbroken family: her husband Steve, 48, her mother Kathleen Wilson, 52, and sisters Jolene Parker, 30, and Kerry Parker, 29.

They described the devastating consequences of Nicola’s substandard care in August 2004, and voiced their anger at having to fight North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust for eight years.

Bubbly, fun-loving, and naturally caring, Nicola was devoted to her family.

In her home village of Great Clifton, near Workington, she was affectionately known as the Pied Piper because children knew they’d always be welcome in her home.

Most poignantly of all, Nicola’s brain damage robbed her three sons – Dean, Nathan, and Steven, then aged 11, seven, and two respectively – of precious years with their adoring mum.

Steve, who gave up his job as a fitter at Sellafield to care for his wife, said: “We were just starting to get on our feet; to have family holidays, and then this tragedy happened. The hardest part is every time I walk into the room and I see her, and start to think of what she was like. I’ll hear a bit of music that takes me back and then I’m in a heap, filling up. I worshipped the ground she walked on and always will.”

Steve recalled how medics had told Nicola and him that their unborn baby – who they named Harry – had died. “They sent us up to the maternity ward,” he said. “Nicola’s mum had asked about a caesarian section, but they said no and gave us options.

“They said they could leave her to go full-term; she could go home for 48 hours to think about it; or they could induce the labour straight away, so that’s what Nicola agreed to.”

Over nine hours, Nicola was given three doses of misoprostol. Minutes before she became ill, Steve was outside the hospital having a cigarette break.

“For some reason, I threw the fag away and went back up to the ward,” he said.

“I heard a whooshing – and told the midwife I thought Nicola’s waters had broken. She gave me a strange look. As I stood there watching Nicola, it was like watching somebody get an electric shock: she twisted her hands and she just went purple. Then all hell broke loose.”

Steve is convinced the choice of drug for his wife was down to cost. “My feeling is that they were wanting her in and out of that hospital as fast as possible.

“I believe the reason she had those tablets was that they cost eight pence each while the pessaries they could have used cost £8 each. No amount of money will bring her back, but the damages will give her the best life humanely possible.”

Jolene said: “She was my best friend."

Kerry added: “It’s left a pain in my heart that’s never going to go away."

The family were represented by medical litigation expert Marcus Nickson, of Workington based KJ Commons & Co. He criticised the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which handled the claim.

He said it battled to reduce the value of the claim, initially offering to admit only 25 per liability. Its lawyers admitted full liability two weeks ago.

“They’ve tried to buy the family off as if it was a commercial dispute,” said Mr Nickson, adding that misoprostol’s maker warned publicly of its dangers to pregnant women in 2001.

A trust spokeswoman acknowledged Nicola, now 35, “did not receive the care to which she was entitled to in 2004” and added: “This is a matter of regret to all those involved and the trust would like to apologise to Mrs Crelling and her family for the distress caused and the impact this has had on them.”

Have your say

My heart gos out to this family I feel for the kids n family n specailly the women who's gone thew all this pain the hosptail sould be closed down,,

Posted by suzie on 7 May 2012 at 13:50

This is an absolute tragedy. As a patient you have to trust medics to give you the right treatment and medicines in the correct doses. 8 years is too long to wait to claim damages. My heart goes out to Nicola and her family, no one should have to go through this.

Posted by woo woo on 3 May 2012 at 14:21

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