Widow Of Devoted Dad Who Died After Weight Loss Surgery Speaks Of Devastation

Expert Lawyers Call On Hospital To Show Improvements Have Been Made Following High Court Settlement

19.04.2012

The devastated wife of a father-of-two who died on her birthday after undergoing weight loss surgery said she hopes the hospital trust has learnt from its mistakes to prevent any other family suffering the same tragic loss after winning her battle for justice.

Gary Cooper, from Ashton-under-Lyne, had a gastric bypass operation in October 2007 to tackle his 26 stone weight and become more active for his children.

But despite being in agony following the surgery, he was sent home just 48 hours later and it was a further two days before doctors sent him for a scan which showed there was a leak where surgery had taken place.

He underwent two emergency operations after another leak was found but tragically died six weeks after the bypass, aged just 48, on his wife Sonia’s birthday.

He left behind his two young sons Nathan, now 10, and Oliver, now five, and his distraught wife Sonia, who asked medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to help with her battle for answers from Tameside and Glossop Primary Care Trust.

She believed Gary was discharged too soon from the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Cheshire following the operation, where doctors remove part of the intestine to make the stomach smaller.

The Hospital admitted to making mistakes in his treatment after it was found Gary showed symptoms of leakage which were not investigated thoroughly before  he was sent home. A six-figure settlement was approved today (19 April 2012) at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, which will help provide the family with financial support as Gary, a Building Firm Manager, was the main breadwinner.

The Trust also offered the Cooper family a full apology in which the Chief Executive of the Trust said: “I do, of course, fully understand that financial settlement can never adequately compensate you and your family for the loss of Gary but I hope that you will feel able to accept my sincere apologies, my condolences on your loss and my best wishes to you and your family for the future.”

At an inquest into Gary’s death at Stockport Coroner’s Court in July 2008 the Coroner John Pollard recorded a narrative verdict finding Gary had died from complications following the weight loss surgery.

He also criticised the hospital’s care of Gary and wrote a letter to the Chief Executive of the Alexandra Hospital with regard to the hospital’s policy to discharge weight loss surgery patients after 48 hours. He suggested they reconsider their policy and implement more checks by medical and nursing staff before discharge.

Specialist medical lawyer Stephanie Forman from Irwin Mitchell, who represented the family, said the hospital now needs to reassure patients that it has acted on the coroner’s recommendations and steps have been taken to improve patient post-operative care in order to prevent the same thing from happening again.

She said: “Gary’s tragic death has left his wife without a husband and two sons without a father from a young age. This was a complex operation and leaks are not uncommon but doctors and nurses should be trained to recognise the symptoms of a leak and act quickly to prevent it from causing irreparable damage.

“Although nothing can turn back the clock and bring Gary back, the payout approved today means the family can start to move forward, knowing they have some financial security.

“The family now hope that the hospital has taken the coroner’s recommendations on board and has improved patient aftercare to ensure the same mistakes can’t and won’t happen again. Patient safety has to be all hospital’s number one priority at all times.”

Gary was discharged from the Alexandra Hospital on 18th October 2007, just two days after he underwent a gastric bypass, despite showing symptoms of leakage including acute pain and a high temperature. His condition then further deteriorated at home and he was re-admitted to Tameside Hospital on 20th October.

A stomach scan revealed a leak where the surgeon had stitched Gary’s intestine and he underwent an operation to repair this before being moved to a surgical ward on 24th October, but just five days later another leak occurred which also needed repairing.

Gary’s devastated wife Sonia, 40, said: “Gary gave the operation serious thought before deciding to go ahead with it. But after battling with his weight all his life, he felt it was his only option.

“He desperately wanted to be more active for our two young sons so, despite loving him as he was, I supported him with his decision. We were warned of the chance of the surgery leaking but doctors reassured us they would closely monitor him for symptoms.

“Despite this Gary was discharged far too early when he was not well enough to come home. He was poorly, immobile and sweating a lot, I had to get a wheelchair to help him out to the car and the drive home was horrendous.

"If anyone went near his stomach, he did not know what to do with himself and neither did I.

“After two operations to repair the leaks Gary was still very poorly and complained of being in pain. He remained in hospital but on 22nd November, my birthday, he seemed better and was sitting up in his bed and holding my hand. We finally thought he was on the mend and the staff were making plans to discharge him.”

Tragically, later that night, nurses found Gary collapsed in the bathroom and despite many attempts, were unable to resuscitate him.

Sonia added: “I’d gone back to visit him that night but his bed was empty. I assumed he was in the bathroom so waited for him but I saw doctors and nurses running into the toilets. I instinctively knew it was Gary but there was nothing I could do, I was helpless.

“I still can’t believe he’s not with us. We all miss him so much. I appreciate the apology from the trust and I hope lessons have been learnt and improvements have been made to ensure no other family suffers the same loss.

Stephanie Forman said: “The hospital trust has worked with us over the last four and a half years and we are pleased the matter is now resolved and hope the family can start to rebuild their shattered lives.”