news

Doctor denies giving wrong dose of childbirth drug to mother who had stroke.

A stroke suffered during childbirth left Bonnie Shi unable to lift her young children, robbed of her English and barely able to walk.

She was once a vivacious young mother with big plans. Now she lives a painful and difficult life.

A looming lawsuit and the confidential settlement that comes with it would have ensured the public were kept in the dark about what happened to Bonnie. But she was intent on telling her story before it was buried for good, in the hope a more transparent medical system will be changed for the better.

In March 2014 Bonnie delivered her second child at the Werribee Mercy Hospital near Melbourne. During the scheduled caesarean, Bonnie suffered a massive haemorrhage and her blood pressure dropped to perilous levels. Her doctor administered two medications — ergometrine and prostaglandin — in an attempt counteract this.

Medical advice obtained by her lawyers determined the medication was administered incorrectly — essentially, it said, too fast and too much — and Bonnie suffered a massive stroke that left the right side of her body in severe atrophy. She needed six months in physiotherapy to walk again.

The stroke’s damage to Bonnie’s brain also left her no longer able to speak English, which she once spoke fluently, having gained a degree in business management.

“I can’t even come up with a full sentence in English. And when I figure something, like figure a word out in my mind, it comes out different when I speak,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie and her husband York had no way of knowing their obstetrician had been quietly settling medical negligence claims by women he treated every year, on average, for more than a decade.

Doctor denies giving wrong dose

Bonnie’s obstetrician was Claude Calandra, who told 7.30 he did not deliver the wrong dose of ergometrine.

“These are standard drugs which we give, these were not overdosed in any way whatsoever, that I can swear to anyone who says that,” Dr Calandra said.

When asked if he thought he was at fault in any way, he replied: “Not at all, 100 per cent, and I’ll stand by what I did,” he said.

“It is distressing for all of us when there is an adverse outcome.

“Sometimes there is no answer. Like this poor patient Mrs Shi. It is heartbreaking. But how can I predict it?

“It is a fact of life, it is absolutely distressing. But we have to cope with it. And I do cope with it.”

‘Of course I feel targeted, but I don’t mind’

In February this year 7.30 aired a story about a cluster of baby deaths in Bacchus Marsh and discovered Dr Calandra among the staff at the hospital.

Although Dr Calandra was not directly linked to the baby deaths at Bacchus Marsh, 7.30 uncovered an extensive history of lawsuits against the obstetrician and gynaecologist, some 14 writs filed in just 15 years at hospitals across Melbourne’s west.

Mothers of children claiming hypoxic brain injury and stillbirth at the hands of Dr Calandra came forward to 7.30.

Former patient Tracey Danskin-Anthony was shocked to learn the doctor was still practising.

“I really do not understand why they keep him practising. He shouldn’t be allowed,” she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Dr Calandra said he bulkbills all of his patients in Melbourne’s western suburbs because they cannot afford a private obstetrician.

He delivers at least 300 babies a year, and does a further 700 gynaecological procedures, far more than his city colleagues.

He is proud of his track record, pointing to his pioneering work in hysterectomy procedures.

“Of course I feel targeted, but I don’t mind,” Dr Calandra said.

“I can walk down the street with my head high and say, ‘I will always do the best for my patients’.”

Patients left in dark

Bonnie’s lawyers contacted 7.30 to inform it of the lawsuit after seeing the report on the Bacchus Marsh deaths.

Dr Calandra was not listed as a defendant on the lawsuit, only the hospital was, so the public would have no way of knowing he was the doctor behind the case.

Once the case is settled, the matter will likely be confidentially sealed for good.

Werribee Mercy Hospital declined an interview or to answer individual questions from 7.30. Its spokeswoman said in a statement:

“We cannot comment on patient cases of individual patients before the courts.

“The care and safety of our patients is always our primary focus. All incidents are thoroughly investigated in an effort to deliver safe, quality and compassionate care to the community that we serve.”

Last month, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy took a motion to a Council of Australian Governments meeting to increase transparency around so-called “frequent-flyer” doctors.

Ms Hennessey wants to see confidential settlements and writs published so patients can more easily track the record of their doctor.

“We asked the national regulator to look at reforming their rules so that it is mandatory to disclose if you have settled a medical negligence claim,” Ms Hennessy said.

Currently patients cannot access a doctor’s history from the hospital and they cannot get it from the medical regulator AHPRA. Medical negligence lawyers know where to look, but patients are in the dark.

“Look, I think it is really important that we try and give greater power to patients,” Ms Hennessy said.

“We can’t let regulation of the medical profession just be a closed shop.”

Dr Calandra supports the move to greater transparency, but thinks it should extend to other professions too.

Bonnie now requires a full-time nanny to help her care for her two young children.

“I’m not able to grow up with my children, to sing or to dance with them. And I lose my career path totally,” she said.

This post originally appeared on ABC News

 

© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.

00:00 / ???