A MOTHER-of-three who had her left leg amputated after a fall is preparing to sue the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital. Eighteen months ago Paula Gowland was standing on a bed to change curtains when she fell from a height of about 60cm.
She landed on her feet, breaking her left leg in four places.
Three-and-a-half months later, doctors told Paula the life-changing news that her leg would have to be amputated below the knee.
The procedure was carried out in Norwest Private Hospital in Bella Vista, NSW.
Now she is preparing to take legal action against Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital and a visiting orthopaedic surgeon over her initial treatment which she claims was flawed.
She says her case should never have progressed to an amputation.
It took several procedures following the break before doctors opted to remove her lower leg, because compartment syndrome had set in.
The experience is taking its toll on the Kawana Island mother.
Just 12 months ago she was upbeat, preparing to get a new prosthetic leg and eyeing off the World Outrigging Titles, determined not to let her life be defined by the operation.
This week she is drained, downtrodden and disappointed.
Ongoing battles with infection and the prospect of yet another amputation - this time above the knee if the infection in her bone can't be overcome - loom large over Paula, her husband John and their three kids.
"I've gone from a working mother of three children . . . to just about nothing.
"I lost my job, I'm not working. What the family has had to go through emotionally, the kids have had to go on with life without mum for a while.
"I'm so slow, everything takes 10 times longer than it should normally, even cooking dinner is a major task for me now."
Paula can no longer use a canoe, much less an outrigger, as she has to monitor her leg daily for infection.
"The part that I can't get around in my head is that I just broke my leg," she said.
"You wouldn't even wish this on your worst enemy."
A $170,000, state-of-the-art prosthetic she required left Paula about $30,000 out of pocket after private health cover, as well as massive amounts of travel between the Coast and Sydney to consult with her specialist, who is desperate to try to save her knee.
As a result, they have enlisted the help of Shine Lawyers, who have lodged a Part One notice of claim against the Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital and a visiting orthopaedic surgeon who performed the initial procedure and was in charge of her care at the hospital.
Paula's case is being handled by Shine Lawyers senior solicitor John Watson, who says the surgeon should have identified Paula's compartment syndrome before it resulted in amputation, hence Paula's decision to take action over her initial treatment.
"Paula's amputation was carried out at the Norwest Private Hospital at Bella Vista in NSW," Mr Watson said.
"I can confirm that the claim does not involve the amputation procedure.
"The claim involves the alleged failure to diagnose compartment syndrome which led to the need for an amputation. We are alleging that had the compartment syndrome been diagnosed in a timely manner, as it should have been (amputation would have been avoided)."
Mr Watson said he believed there was a reasonable prospect of achieving an outcome for Paula and her family that would ensure her ongoing medical expenses were covered, as well as some compensation made for the huge impacts the situation has had on her life.
Mr Watson and his team have been investigating Paula's case for the past six months, employing medical experts, and believe there was some shortfall in early treatment which led to Paula's amputation.
"With any compartment syndrome there's a number of signs and symptoms, basically the hospital missed all of them over a period of about 12 hours (after the initial procedure on the broken leg)," Mr Watson said.
"There's six factors that a reasonable orthopaedic surgeon should've recognised."
Paula's husband John said the main thing was securing an outcome that would give Paula a prosthetic with a moving ankle joint, to enable her to live a more active lifestyle.
"We're not after just money. All we're after is Paula's mental and physical health. The main thing is I don't believe we should be having to pay, I just think fair's fair," he said.
Mr Watson said: "Whether you're a public patient or private, you expect to get a reasonable standard of care. We expect to get good treatment."
Mr Watson said he expected the matter to take about 12 to 18 months to finalise, the other issue being whether Paula would be able to save her knee, given the current bone infection, as further amputations would obviously have an impact on the level of claim being made.
"We need to make sure her injuries are stabilised," Mr Watson said.
A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed to the Daily that the notice of claim had been lodged, but she could not comment about the claims being made, as they were subject to legal proceedings plus patient privacy and confidentiality restrictions.
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