Mr Brian Jefferson worked as a butcher, living in York with his wife and three children. He spent his spare time watching his sons play rugby and walking in the Moors. In 2006 he had started to have pain in his back with pins and needles in his arms. His GP arranged an MRI scan and sent him to Leeds for surgery to remove a prolapsed disc. The surgeon was a nationally recognised expert. Mr Jefferson knew that all surgery carries risk.
After the operation he woke up with no feeling in his legs. Crucially, it took 24 hours for the hospital to scan his back and find a blood clot at the site of the surgery, compressing Mr Jefferson’s spine. He had an operation to take out the blood clot but was left paralysed at the T9 level, with no sensation or movement from the waist down. He suffers daily with painful leg spasms and has had several operations to remove excess bone growth from his hips.
There were two possible arguments in his case.
The first was that a highly eminent neurosurgeon had made a basic mistake planning the surgery. The disc prolapse was large and central and would have been easier to access from the front (through the chest) rather than from the back, where the spinal cord might obscure access to the prolapsed disc. One theory was that Mr Jefferson’s spinal cord had been damaged by contact with surgical instruments and that this would have been avoided by a better choice of surgical access. The was a difficult allegation to prove against one of the leading neurosurgeons in the country. On this argument Mr Jefferson would have had a near full recovery from properly performed surgery.
The second argument was that the cord was damaged by the blood clot. The difficulty there was that a developing blood clot would normally mean neurological symptoms which progressed over time whereas Mr Jefferson had had immediate profound paralysis. On this second argument he would unfortunately have had significant neurological damage even if the blood clot had been removed more quickly.
Mr Jefferson’s case settled this week, 2 days before it was to be heard at trial. He will receive 1.9 million pounds in damages. This award factored in a serious risk that he wouldn’t prove that there had been negligence in his treatment, but it is enough for him to move to a bungalow, buy an all-terrain wheelchair to get onto the beach with his grandchildren, and employ support to make life easier at home. The case took 8 years to conclude but it very nearly never got started. Mr Jefferson had asked 4 other law firms for help but no-one else thought he could win his case. He and his family have seen their lives changed by a medical error, but in 8 years I have never heard him complain, talk about revenge, or feel sorry for himself, he has just wanted help to live his life.