Victims of botched surgery support each other through their suffering
- Credit: Archant
Two victims of terribly botched gallbladder surgery have told of their joy at finally being able to support each other, after the hospital refused to put them in touch.
Paul Tooth, 64, and Lucy Wilson, 33, have endured deep depression and suicidal thoughts since their surgeries at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital (NNUH) in January 2020 left them in constant pain from life-changing injuries.
Even though they spent weeks lying just feet away from each other in hospital, no medical staff informed them they had been victims of the same mistake by the same surgeon.
But last week Mrs Wilson reached out to Mr Tooth after reading his story in this newspaper and the pair now chat morning, noon, and night.
Mrs Wilson, from north Norwich, said: “When we’re low we try to pick each other up”.
Mr Tooth said he’d had a weight taken off his shoulders because “a problem shared is a problem halved".
His wife said the former RAF engineer had been “brighter, cheekier, and happier” since finding someone who understands what he is going through.
Mr Tooth, of Dereham, was left "mutilated" by the surgery, and needs tubes out of his abdomen and up his nose to recycle his own bile for six hours a day, while Mrs Wilson is now incontinent and in chronic pain after surgeon Camilo Valero wrongly sliced away their common bile ducts and parts of their livers, rather than just taking out their gallbladders.
The pair, and a third victim, were the subject of investigations by the hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons after three gallbladder surgeries in five days by Mr Valero had disastrous results.
The surgeon is currently under investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) but the NNUH is defying calls by Mr Tooth, Mrs Wilson, and two local MPs to suspend him until the GMC rules on his fitness to practice.
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When the pair found out there were other patients in their situation, Mr Tooth and Mrs Wilson pleaded with the hospital to be put in touch but were told they could not be.
Mr Tooth waived his right to patient confidentiality and asked the hospital to send his details to the others. The NNUH did not write back.
But after reading Mr Tooth’s story, Mrs Wilson recognised him from her time convalescing at Addenbrooke’s, where she was transferred for lifesaving reconstructive surgery.
She said: “I remember Paul from hospital, and I saw his picture in the article I had the only good flashback I’ve had, of him doing his exercises on the ward and saying hello to everybody.
“To think he was only 20 yards away from me.”
Now the pair are in constant contact.
Mr Tooth said: “Whoever wakes up first texts first. And we’ll text in the middle of the night, because we’re both often up with the pain.
“We’ve been waiting so long to find each other, to find someone who understands what it’s like. We’ve been to hell and back."
Paul’s wife Sue told last week how hard it is to hear her husband speak of wanting to die.
She said: “He’s definitely been a lot brighter, a lot cheekier, and happier. We’ve been waiting so long to find somebody who understands what he’s been through.”
Mrs Wilson added: “It’s priceless.
“Your family try to understand, of course, as well as they can, but they weren’t there in the middle of the night when you were screaming silently because you didn’t want anyone to notice.
“I thought I was on my own. I think we’ll be able to support each other’s mental health."
It also emerged that abdominal surgeon Mr Valero, who continues to operate unsupervised at NNUH except for laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, received two weeks compassionate leave after the botched operations last January.
Mrs Wilson said: “It just makes me so angry. What I want more than anything is for him not to do this to anyone else.”
The hospital said it could not share patient details due to confidentiality and ongoing legal proceedings. It has refused to release the findings of the investigations, citing confidentiality.
NNUH medical director Erika Denton told this paper that the NNUH had changed its procedures so that two surgeons would be on hand for complex gallbladder surgeries, and that there was no evidence that any other area of Mr Valero’s clinical practice was unsafe.
For confidential support, go to samaritans.org or call the Samaritans on 116123
The unanswered questions
Despite two weeks of coverage by this newspaper, and enquiries from patients, MPs and lawyers dating back several months, the NNUH has still failed to answer some key questions:
What happened to the third patient whose operation in January 2020 was also cause for a Serious Incident investigation?
Is that patient alive or dead?
What were the findings and recommendations of the three internal investigations?
What were the findings and recommendations of the Royal College of Surgeons report?