Hamilton man caught in ACC limbo

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 10:25 16/01/2014
Matt McCulloch
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

INSULT TO INJURY: Matt McCulloch is still battling ACC.

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Matt McCulloch has a leg he can't lift properly after a nerve in his back was damaged during hip replacement surgery - and he needs financial help from ACC.

But ACC said the problem was the result of his original condition, and nothing to do with his injury suffered during treatment.

Mr McCulloch, 23, was diagnosed when he was a child with Perthes disease, a softening and deterioration of the thigh bone and hip joint that affects around one in 1200 people.

"Originally the doctor told me I would not have to worry about it until I was around 40," he told the Times.

"But then, when I was 21, I was playing softball one day when my knee started hurting really badly."

After several visits to the doctor and a series of X-rays, he was told the growing disease meant his hip needed to be replaced.

In March 2011 he went in for that surgery.

"At first they wheeled me into the wrong operating theatre . . . and when I was in recovery following the surgery I kept waking up, thinking what the hell is going on. I was in absolute pain from the knee down."

When he eventually was allowed to wake up properly, he couldn't move his toes.

That continued for two days and at first he was told it was a symptom of the anesthetic wearing off.

Later, he found out that when the surgeons were drilling into the bone to thread in a connecting rod to his new hip, they did not drill down far enough. Then, when they were trying to thread the rod through Mr McCulloch's femur, the surgeons put intolerable stress on his sciatic nerve, which was badly damaged.

"It's a bit like an internet cable - there's all these fibres inside and some of them were bent and some were snapped. I was initially told I would never walk again."

Luckily, he was later given a much less dire diagnosis.

"I was told I should be all right in a couple of years . . . I had to learn how to walk again. It was a long, slow difficult process, because I could not bend my knee at all.

"ACC hopped on board to cover me and the cost of physiotherapy and at first they were great."

He eventually returned to work at Bunnings, but was coming under pressure from ACC to do more and more hours till he got up to 28 hours a week. That was when the ACC payments stopped.

"They said my current incapacity was not due to the bungled operation - it was due to Perthes disease."

He applied to them again to cover his physio because he was still struggling with a slow return to fitness, and one leg which was slightly higher than the other, but to no avail.

Then, while working on the shop floor at Bunnings, he tripped over a milk crate and tore his leg socket, setting back his recovery by four to five months.

"No one could understand why I was so bad.

"People don't usually trip over something and then have to spend months off work recovering."

Now, over two years on, Mr McCulloch is working at the Les Mills Fitness gym in central Hamilton.

He is still battling ACC to get compensation for the surgeon's mistake, as well as the resumption of his loss of living allowance.

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ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said the organisation was standing firm, for now.

"ACC's decision to decline Mr McCulloch's ongoing entitlements was based on the available medical information, which indicated that his condition was no longer the result of his covered treatment injury (left sciatic nerve injury).

"Mr McCulloch formally reviewed our decision, however, the independent reviewer found that the medical evidence supported ACC's decision.

"If Mr McCulloch has new medical information to support his claim, we encourage him to get in touch so we can consider it."

Waikato District Health Board staff were not able to comment on Mr McCulloch's situation and said they had no records of any complaints from him.

- Waikato Times

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