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Avoidable death followed repeated failures to diagnose heart infection

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Anthony was 72 years old and was enjoying an active retirement when his GP unexpectedly discovered that he had a low haemoglobin level following a routine blood test. Anthony had undergone a successful coronary artery bypass graft 15 years previously which involved a prosthetic replacement of his aortic valve.

Anthony was referred to a hospital specialist who undertook a colonoscopy and discovered that he had a polyp in his bowel. Anthony was advised to have this removed.

After the colonoscopy, Anthony became breathless and suffered from fluid retention in his legs. He then started suffering from night sweats and became more and more unwell over time. Anthony’s GP undertook another blood test which was found to be abnormal and led the GP to think that Anthony was suffering from endocarditis, a potentially fatal bacterial infection of the inner lining of the heart that can occur in those with a prosthetic (artificial) heart valve.

The GP sent an urgent referral letter to a cardiac specialist.

Despite undergoing investigations which revealed the possible diagnosis of just such an infection on the metallic aortic heart valve, Anthony did not undergo any further cardiac investigations or receive any treatment for this condition.

Anthony then underwent removal of the polyp without antibiotic cover. Following this procedure Anthony became increasingly ill.

It was subsequently confirmed following an emergency admission to hospital that Anthony was suffering from endocarditis. Unfortunately, he then suffered kidney failure due to an antibiotic side effect (gentamycin toxicity). This was caused by failings regarding the dosing regime for this antibiotic in the presence of deteriorating renal (kidney) function caused by the previously untreated endocarditis.

Anthony never recovered from his illness and sadly passed away six weeks later.

Richard Follis at Access Legal represented the family at the inquest, following which they received an apology from the hospital Trust for errors in Anthony’s treatment. However responsibility for causing his death was denied until, after a civil claim was brought, the NHS settled the claim four years after Anthony died. The award included a bereavement award for Anthony’s widow.

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