Shine's Legal Service - Oliver's Story

When Elise got pregnant, she and her husband Mark went to every hospital appointment and had all the scans they were told they needed to make sure that their baby was growing safely. Everything seemed to be fine and after giving birth to baby Oliver, two different doctors checked in on them and confirmed that he was healthy.  They also re-assured Elise and Mark that the red dimple and birthmark they were worried about on his lower back was nothing alarming.

Doctors had recorded Oliver's birthmark in his baby book, but others failed to document it further and did not do any additional checks on him.

After the Health Visitor paid a visit to the family, they asked Elise to show Oliver's birthmark to their GP at their standard 6–8-week check. When the GP checked the mark, Elise was again told it was nothing to worry about.

When Oliver was between 8 - 15 months old he started refusing solid food. Elise and Mark were worried, so they took him to see the GP who diagnosed him with an infection and constipation and sent them home with antibiotics. After two days of treatment Oliver continued getting worse - he was crying a lot and even though he had been drinking water, he had barely been able to pass any urine for hours. After being transferred to the child assessment unit of the hospital, seeing a number of different doctors and having many scans, Oliver was diagnosed with gastroenteritis.

Over the next few days Oliver had to go back to hospital after developing a big rash that doctors put down to being a symptom of a viral cold. He then went back again after his leg went numb the day after. As Oliver was still struggling to pass urine, the doctors of the local hospital explained that Oliver needed specialist tests they could not perform there and that he would need to be admitted to a Children's Hospital around 30 miles away. After arriving at the Children’s Hospital, Oliver developed a high fever and that, combined with his bladder issues, led the doctors to catheterise Oliver.  After finding blood in his urine and doing a series of tests they also put him on antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.

That hospital visit helped shed some light on his condition. The doctors who were treating Oliver's symptoms could not understand why he had them so decided to run a number of tests and get some imaging. An MRI scan of his lower back showed huge lesions (areas of damaged tissue) on his spine and a consultant neurosurgeon did an emergency surgery to find out what had caused them and try to treat them.

As a result of the surgery Oliver was diagnosed with Spina Bifida Occulta. There was a hole between his sacrum and his spine which was open and had allowed bacteria to enter. The bacteria had then moved into the spinal cord causing the big abscesses which put pressure on Oliver’s the nerves causing the leg paralysis and affecting Oliver's bladder.

Over the next couple of months and following more surgery to address the lesions and alleviate the pressure from his bladder, it became clear that Oliver's bladder had been permanently affected and that he would need to have a catheter for the rest of his life. It also looked unlikely that he would ever recover the use of his leg and would have mobility difficulties for life. It also looked likely that the nerve damage would affect Oliver's sexual function when he grows up.

The parents needed some time to take in this information. Understanding why Oliver was unwell relieved some of the uncertainty, but the shock of finding out that his symptoms were not going to go away was significant.

Mark and Elise wanted to understand whether Oliver's condition should have been diagnosed earlier and, if so, whether his injuries could have been avoided. They weren't happy with the answers from the doctors that had treated Oliver as a baby, so they decided to seek legal advice.

Elise and Mark came to Enable Law around Oliver's fifth birthday. They had looked for a firm using the Shine’s online Legal Service directory as they wanted to make sure that their solicitor would be able to understand Oliver's condition.

After receiving Oliver's medical records Enable Law advised that he should have been scanned as a baby, and the hospital voluntarily admitted that this was true, and they had made a mistake. However, they argued that even if they had diagnosed Oliver sooner it would not have prevented the lesions from developing in his spine. With the support of a number of experts that reviewed the medical records, Enable Law's medical negligence team demonstrated that earlier diagnosis of the tethered cord would have resulted into Oliver going into surgery to remove the tract. If the tract had been removed, then the bacteria would not have been able to get in and both the spinal lesions and subsequent nerve damage would have been avoided. There would have been no permanent effects on Oliver's mobility, bladder and sexual function.

As this case was complex, a less experienced solicitor might not have understood where the medical treatment provided had gone wrong.  Oliver and his family may have had to wait for a very long time before getting the answers and support they needed.

Oliver is now eight years old and even though his claim has not yet settled the family has been given interim payments to meet his immediate needs. As part of that he has had access to extensive physical therapy to improve his mobility and ensure that his other leg will not be affected. He has carers visiting him every day enabling Elise and Mark to be parents rather than just fulltime carers.  At school, Oliver has an EHCP which identifies his needs for additional support with toileting and mobility. He is going to need care and support for the rest of his life as well as the support of an occupational therapist and physiotherapist. As part of their claim Oliver's parents have also requested funds to move their family to an adapted bungalow suitable for Oliver's wheelchair. Some of the other things that are being taken into consideration for Oliver's future include access to fertility support and sexual advice to give him the best chance to have a family, if he wants one, in the future.

Even though Oliver's case will not conclude until we can understand the full extent of the effects of his injury, his family have experts on their side, ready to support them to ensure Oliver will have the fullest life possible. 


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