Terminally ill mum wins case against surgeon

Emma and Jonathan Cook
Emma and Jonathan Cook

A mother-of-three left fighting terminal cancer thousands of miles from home has won a medical negligence claim against the surgeon who misdiagnosed her.

Emma Cook, 41, emigrated to Australia in January 2010 from Stanbridge, with her husband and three young children having been discharged by a consultant surgeon in the UK who failed to identify that she was suffering with bowel cancer.

Emma and Jonathan Cook on their wedding day

Emma and Jonathan Cook on their wedding day

Mrs Cook, now living Sydney, has just months to live and says she would have never uprooted her family from Tilsworth Road to the other side of the globe if she’d known what the future had in store.

Visiting her GP in November 2009 with intermittent abdominal pain, she was initially diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and given antibiotic treatment but her symptoms developed to fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and her GP then referred her to the A&E department at Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the same day.

The consultant surgeon James Tweedie, who died of cancer before legal proceedings started, suspected that her symptoms may be related to either a urinary tract infection, appendicitis or an ovarian cyst and sent Mrs Cook for an ultrasound scan to pinpoint the correct diagnosis.

The late night ultrasound results eliminated two of the conditions suspected and identified a mass in or around the appendix. An appendectomy was planned and she was put on intravenous antibiotic treatment which appeared to ease her symptoms.

Emma and Jonathan Cook with Billie (left) and Jamie (right) in 2008

Emma and Jonathan Cook with Billie (left) and Jamie (right) in 2008

She was discharged from Stoke Mandeville Hospital on December 1, 2009 without undergoing an appendectomy with a planned review by the doctor scheduled for two weeks later. Dr Tweedie continued to treat Mrs Cook as a private patient at BMI Chiltern Hospital.

She was reviewed by Dr Tweedie on December 8, 2009 and on January 5, 2010 when he wrote to her GP advising that she was ‘systematically better’ and she was discharged from his care. But no follow-up treatment was advised.

Mrs Cook emigrated to Australia with her family and on visiting a GP there when the frequency of her abdominal pain started to increase, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February 2011 with surgery scheduled just a few days later.

Now terminally ill following years of frequent hospital admissions as the cancer continued to spread around her body, Mrs Cook said: “We have three young children aged 10, 9 and 6 and take one day at a time.

(Right to left) Billy Jamie and Charlie Cook

(Right to left) Billy Jamie and Charlie Cook

“There’s no point in being bitter about what happened but we wouldn’t have moved our young family to the other side of the world, thousands of miles away from our parents and friends, had Dr Tweedie correctly diagnosed me.

“It has been a tough fight with cancer over the past five years and I’m left with very little energy every day and simple tasks like getting the kids ready for school in the morning is too much for me now. I can just about manage to get up in time to say goodbye before they set off.

“The hardest thing to come to terms with is the fact that we’ve been robbed of five years with our friends and family. This is particularly difficult to accept as our kids have lost precious time building relationships with our wider family to help them through this difficult time and in the future.

“My husband Jonathan has had a tough time at work because of my illness, being demoted to allow him time to take care of me because we don’t have our relatives here to help all the time, although they have been flying back and forth to support us for a few months at a time.

“Our focus now is to build as many memories for our children, ten-year-old Billy, nine-year-old Jamie and six-year-old Charlie, as possible and make the best of the time we have left as a family.”

Representing Mrs Cook, Tim Dennis, medical negligence specialist at Linder Myers Solicitors, said: “This is a sad example of the correct and proper follow up procedures not being followed through and the devastating effect it leaves on patient’s lives as a result. Dr Tweedie was reasonable in his diagnosis and test referrals up to the point of the ultra sound.

“This scan alone cannot differentiate between an infection of the lower abdomen and bowel cancer and should therefore have routinely been followed up by a colonoscopy in order to eliminate the suspicion of the presence of cancer.

“While he would have been correct in delaying this procedure until the inflammation of Emma Cook’s appendix had subdued, Dr Tweedie should have referred her for a colonoscopy before January 5, 2010 and should not have discharged her from his care until this had taken place.

“Had this routine procedure been carried out at the time, bowel cancer would have been diagnosed and my client would certainly not have moved her young family to the other side of the world.

“An earlier diagnosis would have also saved her from suffering chemotherapy treatment and the significant scarring left by surgery on the tumour which had grown in size when she was eventually diagnosed.

“Although my client’s long term prognosis would have sadly been the same, a timely diagnosis would have saved her and her family a lot of unnecessary hardship.”

A settlement of £125,000 has been reached against James Tweedie’s estate.