31 year old Ella Clarke of Torquay, Devon keeps reliving the nightmare of waking from a coma six days after her c-section and learning that doctors had amputated both of her legs below the knee. Ella says that “Going to the hospital to have my baby should have been the best moment of my life, but instead my world is shattered.”
Ella had her first child, 13-year-old Abbie, with her childhood sweetheart at age 18. After that relationship broke down she met Ian Ross, now 32, and they began dating. The couple both wanted a big family and by 2015 they’d had six children in the space of nine years. Just eight months after having now 2 year old Freddie, Ella was pregnant again…and delighted. And although she says people thought she and Ian were “mad” to have such a huge family, it was what they wanted and they were happy.
At her 20-week scan the midwife informed Ella that she had low lying placenta, commonly known as placenta previa, a condition that can cause trouble during delivery due to excessive bleeding. The condition often requires a cesarean delivery, and Ella’s doctor agreed. Because her first child was traumatic labor, by choice Ella had her next six babies by c-section. So she felt comfortable with the decision and was excited to learn the baby was a girl. Her pregnancy seemed normal until week 36, when she began to bleed and was taken to Torbay Hospital in Torquay.
Excited about meeting her new daughter, Ella signed the consent form and told Ian she was dreaming about a family holiday with all eight children. Doctors delivered 6 lb. 5 oz. Winter Rose, but Ella began to lose a lot of blood – 6 liters, due to a dangerous complication common in women who have had previous c-sections.
The condition is called placenta accreta, and the placenta attaches to the uterine wall where there is scarring from previous cesareans. It can damage other organs and increases the risk of hemorrhage.
Doctors gave Ella five blood transfusions to save her life, then performed an emergency hysterectomy before they placed her in an induced coma and transferred her to intensive care. She needed to be carefully monitored over the next 24 hours since one of the serious side effects of the condition is problems with blood clotting.
Ella says she now knows it’s common for blood to clot in the legs in these situations so it would have been imperative that doctors monitor her hourly. But she alleges that they forgot, and six hours passed before she was seen. By then, the blood in her legs had clotted and stopped circulation, starving the lower limbs of blood supply.
— Herald Express (@TQHeraldExpress) May 29, 2016
Still in the induced coma, she was rushed to surgery but it was too late. The tissue in her lower legs was giving off poisonous toxins that are potentially fatal. Doctors had to act fast before those toxins spread and stopped her heart. They made the decision to amputate both legs below the knee. They saved her life – something the shocked and devastated Ian begged them to do – but they also changed that life forever.
Five days later Ella woke up not knowing she’d been in a coma and expecting to hold her new baby. Instead, she got the news about her legs.
She spent 23 days in the hospital, then received counseling and prosthetic legs which she’s still trying to get used to after hours of physio. It’s difficult for her to take in the reality that she went from being a very active young mom to wheelchair bound, and she’s cried a lot. The ordeal has taken an emotional toll on the entire family. Ella says “I’m a shadow of my former self and my kids are scared to cuddle because my stumps frighten them.”
After a meeting with the hospital, Ella and Ian were informed of the hospital’s oversight and issued an apology – too little, says the couple, and five months too late. A spokesman for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust said “We would like to offer our sympathy to Ms. Clarke,” and added “we are carrying out a full and thorough investigation, so at this time it is not appropriate to make further comment.”
Little Winter Rose is a happy and healthy baby and the story should have a happier ending. But this shocked family is struggling with some harsh new realities and practical matters. Ella has a solicitor acting on her behalf to launch legal action against the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.