Budding Paralympian Looks To Future After Hospital Admits Failings

Expert Medical Lawyers Call For Improved Strategy Within Hospital Trust

26.07.2012

A 24-year-old Paralympic hopeful whose leg was amputated after doctors failed to perform simple tests for muscle pressure when he was injured playing football has won his battle for justice and said he can now focus on achieving his ‘sporting dream’.

‘Inspirational’ sports fanatic Robert Oliver, from Solihull, Birmingham, suffered two fractures to his right leg when he was tackled during an amateur football game in February 2008.

He spent days in agony, begging staff to do something, but doctors failed to carry out full muscle stretch tests which would have highlighted compartment syndrome - when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels causing paralysis and infection - and failed to carry out a procedure which would have relieved the pressure in his damaged muscle.

After 17 operations to try and repair the damage, Robert then needed a below knee amputation of his right leg in October that year.

Robert launched a successful battle for justice with the help of medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office, who are now calling for greater awareness within the NHS of the symptoms of compartment syndrome and for a strategy to be put in place so tests are carried out thoroughly, after the Heart of England Foundation NHS Trust admitted liability.

Despite his disability, Robert was determined to continue playing competitive sport, and after Irwin Mitchell helped secure an interim payment last year to fund a permanent prosthetic limb and physiotherapy, Robert began training with the British Paralympic Kayaking team. He is now working towards competing in Rio in 2016.

Mandy Luckman, a partner and medical law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Robert is a truly inspirational man who has shown incredible courage and determination despite clear failings by the hospital where he sought treatment.

“The trust admitted that their failures ultimately led to the amputation of Robert’s leg. It is a concern that staff didn’t recognise the symptoms and carry out thorough tests which would have resulted in a diagnosis.

“We’d like to see greater awareness of the symptoms of compartment syndrome and if necessary a strategy to be put in place that ensures any patient displaying those symptoms are thoroughly tested so that they can be treated promptly should they require it.

“The outcome in this case has been tragic for Robert and his family who have experienced a dreadful ordeal. We are hopeful that raising awareness of this case will mean that appropriate steps are implemented and lessons learnt so the same mistakes can’t happen again.

“I wish him every success in his goal of competing in the Paralympics and have no doubt he’ll do Britain proud.”

Robert, a former space engineer, was rushed to Birmingham Heartlands Hospital A&E department in agony and although a doctor initially recognised possible compartment syndrome, they failed to inform the specialist that it needed to be investigated urgently.

He spent two days in excruciating pain showing signs including numbness and tingling before doctors operated on his leg. Even then, they still failed to diagnose the severity of his injuries and a simple procedure to relieve the pressure in his leg during surgery would have prevented it developing further.

It wasn’t until 28 February – four days after Robert was admitted - that he was finally confirmed to be suffering compartment syndrome and was rushed into emergency surgery to try and treat it.

He had two unsuccessful operations before being transferred to Selly Oak Hospital where he had 15 further operations to try and repair the damage. But it was too late and in October 2008 Robert was told his only option was to have a below the knee amputation on his right leg.

Robert said: “I cannot begin to describe the pain I suffered for four days in hospital. It was the worst experience of my life. I knew something was seriously wrong but no one would listen to me. I was begging them to do something to help but I was told it would get better.

“I still struggle to believe that a game of football led to me losing my leg. I just hope the hospital learn from their mistakes to prevent anyone else having to go through the same experience. My life has changed forever as a result of their negligence.”

The interim payment secured by Irwin Mitchell last year funded adaptations to Robert’s home, a permanent prosthetic leg and physiotherapy. This helped him to gain confidence in his ability to continue playing sports and he began training several times a week with the British paralympic kayaking team.

Robert added: “I’m now looking forward to working towards my sporting dream – competing in the Paralympics. I’m determined to prove that having a disability doesn’t have to stop you living your life and achieving great things.”