Claim for Negligent Heart Surgery Resolved after Surgeon Struck Off

A mother´s claim for negligent heart surgery has been resolved three years after her daughter died from brain damage sustained during the operation.

On September 24th 2003, Carrie Wright was just nine years of age when she underwent elective surgery at Leeds Royal Infirmary to repair a heart defect. During the operation Carrie was deliberately put into deep hypothermic circulatory arrest (DHCA) – a procedure that cools the body down so that work can be done on the heart without the patient suffering brain damage.

However, rather than limiting the period of DHCA to the maximum recommended forty-five minutes, Carrie´s surgeon – Dr Nihal Weerasena – kept her body in circulatory arrest for more than two hours, resulting in Carrie suffering severe brain damage. Due to her injury, Carrie was unable to walk or stand, had limited speech and was unable to live an independent life.

In 2014, concerns about Dr Weerasena was brought to the attention of the General Medical Council after Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust had reviewed its paediatric care services and suspected the surgeon of a number of failings related to the care of seven children and one adult. In January 2017, he was found guilty of misconduct and struck off. Tragically Carrie died in December 2013 aged twenty.

Prior to the review of the standard of care at Leeds Royal Infirmary, Carrie´s mother – Dawn Clayton – had made a claim for negligent heart surgery against the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS trust, alleging that her daughter´s brain damage could have been avoided at the time and in the circumstances, and was attributable to Dr Weerasena´s negligence.

In the claim for negligent heart surgery it was argued that there was no justifiable reason for Carrie being kept in circulatory arrest for so long, as the surgery was not an emergency operation and Dr Weerasena had other options available to him. However, until the surgeon was found guilty of misconduct by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, the NHS Litigation Authority refused to settle the case.

Now Carrie´s mother is to receive £430,000 compensation in settlement of her claim for negligent heart surgery. She has also received an apology from Dr Yvette Oade, the Chief Medical Officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. In her apology, Dr Oade said:  “On behalf of the hospital I would like to express my sincere condolences to the family of Carrie, and deeply regret that we failed to provide the standard of care that she and her family were entitled to expect”.