The devastating impact of a delay in diagnosis of Compartment Syndrome

Posted by Patricia Wakeford, 23rd August 2019
Sophia* fell at home and was taken by ambulance to her local hospital in Hertfordshire. An X-ray was taken which showed displaced fractures of the left fibula and tibia. She had surgery to nail and secure the fractures.

She complained of pain following surgery which increased over the next few days to a point where she felt her leg would explode. She did not know what to do as the pain was unbearable. She was given maximum pain killers, but these failed to help. She was nursed on a ward that was not as familiar with dealing with post-surgery bone injuries. Sophia was seen by various junior doctors and was told that she was suffering from post-operative pain and bruising. Compartment Syndrome was considered, but ruled out.

She was subsequently seen by a pain management team who again told her that it was normal post-operative pain. However, the nurses were becoming concerned and she was moved to an orthopaedic ward. On day 4 following surgery, she was seen by the consultant who immediately diagnosed Compartment Syndrome and ordered emergency surgery.

Compartment Syndrome is a condition where bleeding occurs following surgery. The compartments of the leg fill with blood and because it is unable to drain; it causes pressure on ligaments, nerves and leg muscle and severe pain as it develops. In this case, significant damage occurred which resulted in 9 surgeries to ensure that all dead tissue was removed and to try and minimise the large scars that resulted. Surgery would have been required in any event, but not so many and the scars would have been much less.

Sophia was diagnosed with drop foot due to the amount of muscle and nerve damage. This means that her forefoot does not lift when she walks. She falls regularly as a result and has to be very careful on the stairs. She uses mobility aids and cannot run as she did previously or enjoy her lifestyle as she did before the injury. This has impacted on her psychologically to a large degree.

Sophia contacted Blake Morgan Injury Group, and Patricia Wakeford from the clinical negligence team managed her claim. The trust admitted that there had been a delay in diagnosis of the Compartment Syndrome. They made interim payments before the case was concluded to ensure that Sophia could purchase orthotics and have treatment and therapy.

Multiple experts were instructed to consider Sophia’s care, physiotherapy, accommodation and orthotics needs. A case manager was instructed who helped with obtaining psychology input and enabling her to get out of the house and become more independent than she had been since she left hospital.

Sophia was pleased to settle her case in 2019 for £300,000. This will enable her to have further treatment and to help her to manage her home and children until she can find a job that allows for her additional mobility problems.

Please contact Patricia Wakeford, Legal Director in our Clinical & Medical Negligence team if you have any questions about this case summary.

* Names have been changed in this article to protect client confidentiality.

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