Surgery mishap: Woman wins R2.5m suit

2012-10-26 22:24

Johannesburg - An Eastern Cape woman has successfully sued the state for R2.5m after a surgeon left a swab the size of a hand towel to rot in her abdomen, the Weekend Post reported on Friday.

After more than a year of litigation, the matter was settled on Thursday and made an order of the Eastern Cape High Court in East London.

Zoliswa Quvane, 28, a single mother and street vendor, had sued the Eastern Cape health department and Dr Sheridan Santhia, a former surgeon at East London's Frere Hospital.

She nearly died in the process and the pain she suffered was so crippling she had to quit her job, losing the only source of income for her and her two young children.

Due to a non-disclosure agreement, the Weekend Post could not reveal the amount she was paid out, but Quvane was thrilled with the settlement.

"I am very happy. I am relieved and excited to start my new life," Quvane told the newspaper.

Judge Bonisile Sandi ruled that the money be paid into a trust account set up by Quvane's legal team. He also made a costs order against the respondents.

Her woes began on 1 April 2010, when she was admitted to Frere Hospital following a knife attack in Dutywa, where she worked.

Her stomach was sliced open and she was stabbed in the head and back. Doctors managed to save her life, but the surgical swab, about the size of a hand towel, used to soak up her blood remained inside her.

According to court papers, Santhia performed an exploratory laparotomy before suturing the wound with the swab still inside.

After several days in hospital, Quvane was discharged. However, she continued to suffer immense pain. For almost a year, doctors were unable to locate its source.

Quvane approached numerous private doctors and specialists at Butterworth Hospital for help. After seeing her swollen belly, one doctor suggested she might be pregnant.

A doctor referred her back to Frere, where, on 9 March 2011, an X-ray revealed the object.

The swab was removed two days later, but her condition continued to deteriorate and she was admitted to the hospital's high care ward, where she remained for about a month.

She subsequently brought legal action against Frere, Santhia, and the provincial health department.

Head of surgery at Stellenbosch University Professor Brian Warren filed an affidavit in support of her claim, saying the swab could have killed her. He found the actions by Frere medical staff "unacceptable".

Quvane claimed R2.5m for general damages, pain and suffering, loss of amenities of life, past and future medical expenses, and past and future loss of income.

Health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo told the Weekend Post the matter would be investigated internally.

  • thabo.manganye - 2012-10-27 05:57

    So now she is 2.5 million richer , how many people are going to die because of lack of funds from the hospitals(gvt) people sue the very institutions that provide free services to the poor I ironic

      mshiniboys - 2012-10-27 06:50

      Oh uneducated one...when money is given to someone who sued a govenment department they do not pay them with money from annual is paid by the treasury.that is why it is called suing the govenment and not the other words it makes no difference in terms of service delivery.

      maikaelelo.obusitse - 2012-10-28 08:41

      sagin what exactly r u on about! i dnt like the current ANC leadership myslf bt wht makes thabo an ANC supporter? and just coz one person is misinformed tht dnt make the whole race dumb.... mind ur words boet!

  • marile.lombard.3 - 2012-10-27 06:24

    Wtf bcluley?

  • raymond.kok3 - 2012-10-27 06:32

    i bet that you the dept will appeal a case they cannot win it will take another 5years before she sees her money dumb asses

  • mshiniboys - 2012-10-27 06:44

    No more surgeries! I thought misaps were only inherent in circumcision.

  • theresa.pickering.1 - 2012-10-27 07:04

    I'm shocked !!! This is not a swab or a piece of guaze but a piece of surgical material the size of a hand towel!!! Two reasons, one, negligence on behalf of the Dr and two, tired and over worked Drs and medical staff in our state hospitals. Glad she survived and is happy with the settlement. Just wish our Govt would wake up. When u medical and education systems start failing, the country is heading for a fall. Sad !

  • nyiko.ngobeni.5011 - 2012-10-27 07:58

    Why pay it into lawyers trust account? Don't they wanna close their files and go away now? I feel sorry for her already, her ordeal isn't over!

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 08:27

    As a surgeon previously having worked at Frere hospital I would like to make some remarks. Swab counts are routinely done by the scrub sister attending every case. It is her task is to alert the surgeon whether the counts are correct or not.

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 06:23

      I agree partially with you @Mark. It is equally the responsibility of the surgeon to ask if the counts are correct or not before closing up the abdomen. I'm speculating here, but as a nurse, some doctors are never told anything by nurses, so the relationship between the scrub nurse and the doctor is in question here. The relationship should be a professionally collaborative one, and in most instances it is not. I work in psychiatry and we work better with psychiatrists....

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 08:36

    As a surgeon and former colleague of Dr. Santhia I would like to say this:Dr. Santhia is a careful, conscientious and caring doctor who takes his job and his patients seriously. I find it unfortunate that his good name should be tarnished by somebody he was trying to help. Swab counts are the scrub sister's responsibility, not the surgeon's. So all you uninformed self-satisfied readers out there who seem so happy to see a useful member of society lynched get your facts straight.... Swab counts are not the surgeon's responsibility... Dr. Santhia will go on to become a wonderful career... Maybe he will save your life one day.

      phumudzo.mudzusi - 2012-10-27 08:58

      People in SA are too quick to judge, even in matters they understand nothing about.Should they have not saved her life on day one,she would be dead as we speak.No one appreciates the hectic hours Drs work and how I wish they paid us enough money equivalent to our responsibilities.

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 06:34

      Dear doctor. Your continued reference to the fact that it's the sister's responsibility to do swab counts may mislead the public. Both the nurse and the surgeon are responsible. The surgeon him/herself must literally ask 'are the counts correct?'. And this goes for everything else in the surgical tray, sutures, instruments ect. So the relationship between the two is in question here. Is it collaborative or is it master/maid one? That's the question here. I am also that only the surgeon has be singled out, the scrub sister should have as well...I work in Gauteng and have no intimate details of the case. Having said that you are in right in all salient points, except on the issue of responsibility. Thank you...Psychiatric Nurse.

  • phumudzo.mudzusi - 2012-10-27 08:49

    I wish people knew how hard it is to work under conditions Dr's in Gover hosp works under.She was stabbed and they saved her life, I'm sure that counts for nothing. No wonder we are leaving for private cos no effort is appreciated.I don't condone what transpired but I'm sure that she never even bothered to say thanks after her first Operation. My heart goes to the Dr cos I'm sure he meant no harm .

  • roschelle.freeks - 2012-10-27 09:16

    santhia has learned a lesson.Never trust your team. Do ur job by saving a life and also do the scrub sister job by doing swab counts. Work 36 hours trying 2 save lives and get sued. We know what caring n hard working dr u r.

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 10:32

    In response to a previous comment on how we should question"QUALIFICATIONS" doctors need to practice in our state sector.... Well, you need a registered medical degree and be licensed with the HPCSA. Santhia has those, so what's your point?

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 12:31

    Dear leonard1. Thanks for your comment. There are indeed check lists that need to be fulfilled in any operation. Recently there has been a major push to universally adopt a standardized World Health Organization per surgical check list; but one of the major concerns is that although we are good at completing it before the planned procedure, we are not so good at re doing it at the end of the procedure. I feel that in this case where a swab was retained and the patient suffered, the correct outcome and compensation was achieved. But to lay the blame at one persons feet,whose job is not primarily the swab feet whe

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 12:35

    Sorry Leonard... Pushed the wrong button there... I was saying that I think it was wrong to blame the doctor in this case. If you want to blame some one at all, blame the scrub sister. But unfortunately we weren't given her name so she can go on without a tarnished name, unlike Dr. Santhia

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 06:59

      I will continue to agree with you but differ on one of the critical points. If you want to blame anyone, investigate both the surgeon and the nurse, because they both responsibble for the swab counts one way or the other. It's not a master/maid relationship we are talking about here. And people must remember that still to this day, some doctors are never told anything by nurses anyway. Terrible and unfortunate state of affairs! Concerned Psychiatric Nurse

  • steveroodt - 2012-10-27 13:00

    At the end of the day From Zero To Millionaire the African Dream.......But the Lawyer took a nice Slice

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-27 21:22

    Debbie Your comments are irrelevant to this case. While I really do feel sorry for you, the fact that you suffered this problem has nothing to do with the doctor, the treatment or the subsequent management you had. If you had instituted action against the doctor, MPS would have vehemently defended him....

  • sanjay.monsingh - 2012-10-27 23:04

    the common man does not know that swabs are the duty of the scrub sister,there goes another doctor to the private sector due to this would be nice to blame the awful food on the flight on the captain .....

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 07:02

      Not true at all. Both the surgeon and the nurse are responsible one way or the other. This master-maid reslationship that's being portrait is just unfortunate...

  • morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 06:44

    I'm sure everyone is deeply saddened and shocked by this tragedy. Some people have not been in surgery or if they have are understandingly not privy to the goings-in there. My point is that both the scrub nurse and the surgeon are responsible one way or the other for the swab count one way or the other. Basically the nurse must tell and if for unexpected reason doesn't, the surgeon must ask. So in investigating the matter the role played by each in the case has to determined. The relationship between a doctor and a nurse is not one of a master and a maid. I agree that the only doctor has been singled out here. Regards... Concerned Psychiatric Nurse

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 10:24

      Pressed the wrong button trying to identity of the person who gave me the thumbs down, not that it, couldn't possibly give my own comment the thumbs down. But who ever feels differently I would be glad to engage them. I'm well versed in these things so I know very well what i'm talking about. in fact I would relish the challenge, they can only enrich all of us, for the sake of quality and patient safety....

  • mark.i.hampton - 2012-10-28 09:13

    I agree with you Morpheus. We often do need a better relationship with our scrub sister and we do need to improve on our check list at the end of the case. But when you are told that " swabs and instruments are correct" then you assume that they are. At the hospital I work at we have had 2 cases this year where this was the case.... Luckily we managed to sort both patients out and they did well.

      morpheus.mafa - 2012-10-28 10:18

      You are absolutely right doc. It's been a pleasure chatting to you. Take care...

  • Duits - 2013-03-08 09:14

    Why weren't the swabs counted before stiching up commenced(we were taught this in nursing!)? Surely one of these doctors should have taken an xray or even done a scan when she started complaining of stomach pains, the incompetence is astounding!

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