Brain-damaged mum wins compo fight

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013

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A young mum left severely brain-damaged after botched hospital treatment during childbirth has won compensation after a seven-year battle.

Auckland woman Joanna Louise Crampton, 37, was admitted to North Shore Hospital two days before Christmas in 2005 to give birth to her third son.

She suffered a "catastrophic" amniotic fluid embolism - a rare emergency in which debris enters the body during childbirth. The hospital was severely criticised for its "monumental failure" in the case.

Crampton's family has been battling the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), which declined a 2006 claim because it said the injuries were as a result of an "unpredictable complication", rather than a lack of treatment.

But after seven years, that fight is finally over, with an Auckland District Court judge overturning ACC's decision.

It is not clear what Crampton's compensation will be. Her former husband, Damian Crampton, said lawyers are still discussing the figure.

He told the Sunday Star-Times that his former wife now lives at a West Auckland residential rehabilitation centre for people with traumatic brain injuries. "We still go visit her," he said.

Damian Crampton has since remarried and raises their three children with his new wife.

In a decision released last month, Judge Roderick Joyce said hospital staff's "tardiness and insufficiency" in responding to Crampton's emergency resulted in the irreversible injury which was "most probably substantially, if not entirely, avoidable". He criticised the hospital for its "monumental failure".

Andrew Brant, Waitemata DHB's chief medical officer, said Crampton's case was thoroughly investigated and an external review by the Health and Disability Commissioner at the time, Ron Paterson, found no breach of code.

"Following our own internal investigations into the case eight years ago, we made a number of improvements around how we respond to emergency situations in our maternity wards. We have met with the family on a number of occasions to discuss these changes," said Brant.

In Crampton's case, Judge Joyce said that when she was admitted to hospital, she was a fit woman and "proper treatment would most probably have left her quite unimpaired or not too far short of that".

During labour, Crampton complained of "painful legs, arms, jaw and teeth" and "had a seizure that lasted several minutes". She regained consciousness but did not recall the birth and complained of difficulty breathing.

Only after Crampton lost consciousness again and became unresponsive was an emergency Code Red call made. A doctor then intubated Crampton, who was suffering from haemorrhage and cardiopulmonary arrest.

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Judge Joyce accepted expert evidence that "there were no moments to waste" between the time of Crampton's initial seizure and the emergency response - a crucial gap of 23 minutes.

"Mrs Crampton suffered a completely or at least substantially avoidable injury as the result of the treatment that was - in the respects so vital to the recovery and maintenance of her well-being - significantly deficient."

Crampton's lawyer, Phil Schmidt, confirmed that her brain damage was life-long and "of the most serious kind".

He said it was "inappropriate" for him to comment on the compensation Crampton would receive.

"There was a lost opportunity for a significantly improved outcome ranging from a reduced neurological damage to more or less a complete recovery," he said.

Patient care at North Shore Hospital has been in the spotlight before.

In 2009, Paterson released a damning report into the treatment of five patients treated at its Emergency Care Centre and two medical wards between April and October 2007.

The report said the hospital was "overcrowded", staff were "stretched and stressed, patients and families were left in the dark . . . and nurses did not have the time to care".

Last month, claims that poor treatment contributed to North Shore man Michael Baker's death sparked an internal review of his treatment. In light of those claims, the family of Margerette Rill Andrews came forward claiming their terminally ill mother was left for hours without pain relief and were reprimanded when using a call button before her death in March.

The hospital acknowledged Andrews' lack of care and apologised to the family.

In an effort to improve its services, the DHB invited Paterson back in 2011 to review the hospital.

His report into the year-long review was released in May and found the DHB to be performing well. Paterson acknowledged the health board had made "positive changes" but made several recommendations, including "the basics of courtesy".

The report, said: "It pinpoints the recurrent themes in complaints: rude and disrespectful behaviour, a failure to keep patients informed . . . and a failure to listen to patients and family and respond to their concerns."

"In many areas, [Waitemata DHB] is now a national leader in health quality, including in electronic prescription of medicines, handling of complaints, transparency and improvements in quality outcomes."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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