'She screamed when I told her' - mum's anguish after operation to save leg cancelled at last minute
A distraught daughter last night told how her mother screamed when she learned that vital surgery on her diseased foot had been cancelled - just one day before an operation that could save her leg from amputation was due to take place.
West Belfast woman Martine McCreight penned a heartfelt open letter yesterday to Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride on behalf of her mum Elizabeth McConway (61).
The op was due to take place at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast today.
But when Martine called yesterday to check the arrangements, she was told it was off.
There were no beds available. Her mum would have to go back on the waiting list, she was told.
Ms McConway has suffered from scleroderma, an auto-immune disease that affects the skin, heart, lungs and blood vessels, for more than 30 years.
In her letter, Martine told Dr McBride: "The amputation that was planned for tomorrow was not guaranteed to fully resolve the issue my mother has with her left foot and she has already been prepared for the possibility that she may end up having a below-knee amputation.
"Are we to now assume that this will be the likely outcome while she sits at home, watching her foot rot in front of her?"
Elizabeth's condition is rapidly worsening to the point where she is beginning to think about suicide, Martine wrote.
"In the last 10 years, her condition has worsened, leading to her losing toes and parts of her fingers. Despite the ongoing chronic pain and emotional distress associated with any long-term medical condition she has managed to, until recently, lead a relatively normal life," Martine wrote in her letter.
"However this year her quality of life has deteriorated, made worse by her now apparent drug addiction after a sustained period of prescribed medication aimed at managing the severe and constant pain she is in.
"The situation that my mother is faced with has taken its toll on her mental health, with my mother now regularly talking about suicide being her only option to end the physical and mental pain she is suffering from," Martine wrote, as she begged Dr McBride to intervene to help her suffering mum. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Martine said her mother's pain from the diseased foot was unbearable.
"She hasn't slept in bed for months, because she can't elevate her legs, she's in so much pain," she said.
"She's sleeping on the sofa, and she's at home on her own with nobody to help her.
"There have been times we've gone in to see her and thought she was dead because of the powerful painkilling tablets she's been prescribed."
Martine said her mother was "shattered" by news her operation had been cancelled.
"I'm still in shock that I had to break the news to her today.
"She screamed when I broke it to her."
Her voice trembling with emotion, Martine added: "At the minute, they are saying that they can't save her toes, because they are already black. They are going to have to amputate her foot back to where they can find enough good skin to close the wound.
"But the longer she is left, the more they are will have to amputate. She could end up with no leg," Martine sobbed.
The Belfast Telegraph contacted Belfast Health and Social Care Trust yesterday about Ms McConway's plight.
Last night the trust said: "The Belfast Trust is aware of this situation and apologises for the added distress that has been caused to this lady and her family.
"While we are unable to comment on individual cases, we can confirm that the trust has been in contact with the family in relation to this matter.
"Unfortunately patient cancellations can occur when there are not sufficient beds for patients awaiting elective (planned) surgery and patients requiring emergency vascular surgery. When this situation arises, patients requiring planned surgery are prioritised by the clinical team.
"We understand that having surgery cancelled is very upsetting and worrying for patients and their families, and it is not what we would wish for any patient.
"It is always our intention to reschedule any cancelled surgery as quickly as possible. The Belfast Trust will be in further contact with the family and the patient."
It's understood that Dr McBride has also responded directly to Mrs McCreight and her mother after receiving the letter.
The Department of Health said: "The department very much regrets that anyone has had to go through this experience.
"We are liaising with the Belfast Trust and being kept informed of the situation."