Horrific cases come to light after childbirth op pay-out
Published 25/03/2012 | 05:00
A woman awarded €450,000 in compensation by the High Court on Friday after her life was "destroyed" by an outdated childbirth operation has prompted others to reveal horrific stories and take action for undergoing unnecessary symphysiotomy operations.
Olivia Kearney (60) endured a "wholly unnecessary" surgical procedure after she had her first baby nearly 43 years ago.
Teresa Devoy, who was only 18 when she became pregnant with her first baby in 1963, is one of hundreds of Irish women who underwent the procedure, which was used from the 1940s to the early 1980s.
A doctor had given prior warning to Teresa to expect a difficult childbirth, as she was only seven stone and expecting a 10lb baby when she was sent into St Luke's Hospital in her hometown of Kilkenny a week before her due date.
Teresa went into labour in April 1963 and two days later she was still in the agony of labour.
"I was positive I was going to die, the pain was so awful. They refused to call the doctor because I wasn't a private patient. I went through two nights in appalling agony," she explained.
The scariest part of the ordeal for Teresa, now 67, was when a priest set up candles beside her hospital bed.
"In those days, if a priest came in to anoint you, you were dying and I was praying if I was dying to let it be quick as the pain seemed to just go on and on," said Teresa.
The following morning Teresa's doctor arrived; he briefly looked at her and told her he must first do hospital rounds.
"I was flabbergasted, I was crying and shouting but that's exactly what he did. I don't remember much after that except my legs being put up in stirrups," said Teresa.
The next memory was waking up after giving birth, strapped from her waist to her knees and bound tightly to the bed. Unknown to Teresa she had undergone a symphysiotomy, a cruel and dangerous childbirth operation that unhinges the pelvis, severing the symphysis joint.
These operations at the time were down to doctors' preference for symphysiotomies over a Caesarean section for difficult births.
She had not given consent for the operation and she was left in the hospital for five weeks after going into labour.
"They told me I had to lie on my back and not move. It was three days before they brought baby Sean down to me. They went ahead and organised his christening so they were obviously concerned about his health," explains Teresa, which she did not attend due to her lack of mobility.
She was in for a further shock, when she first laid eyes on her newborn.
"It was the most upsetting and terrifying thing I ever had to deal with in my life, the baby was battered and bruised and the most unlikely new baby I had ever seen.
"I immediately knew there was something wrong," said Teresa, who was not aware at that time she had just undergone this abusive operation to permanently widen her pelvis as no doctor or nurse had informed her.
"I couldn't climb the stairs and I wasn't able to take care of my baby. My husband carried me from my hospital bed to the car. I literally had to learn how to walk all over again," said Teresa. She was discharged from hospital without any medical advice.
Teresa explains at the time women were still mostly giving birth at home so to succumb to this butchery at the hands of the medical profession was unthinkable.
"Nobody said to me they were going to operate. I had a vague notion that if they had intervened earlier I might have had a more humane Caesarean section," an emotional Teresa explained.
The first real knowledge Teresa had of the operation she had undergone was 10 years ago when a new doctor came to her local practice and asked her to recount her surgeries to her.
"The doctor explained to me about this barbaric operation and thought it had been long finished with at that time; it was her who told me the truth all those years later."
Teresa's long-lasting effects from the unnecessary operation includes ongoing back pain and incontinence as far back as she can remember.
"I have been wearing pads all my adult life because I have no control at all over my bladder. I have been failed by the state," she said.
Teresa is only one of what is believed to be more than 120 cases pending in the courts with campaign group Patient Focus, who represent women who suffer as a result of such procedures.
Marie O'Connor, spokeswoman for Survivors of Symphysiotomy, said it was essential the statute of limitations was set aside for older surviving women who had the operation who could then seek redress through the courts.