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A keen motorcyclist who fears paralysis after undergoing unnecessary spinal surgery receives six figure settlement

A patient who suffered new symptoms after experimental spinal surgery has received a six figure settlement, as well as provisional damages.

Posted on 15 September 2023

A patient who suffered new symptoms after experimental spinal surgery has received a six-figure settlement, as well as provisional damages.

The Claimant, who we have called Taylor, took medical advice from Mr Knight, Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon, in relation to a history of neck pain. Taylor was advised by Mr Knight to undergo surgery to insert Gelstix, a hydrogel implant claimed to grow and expand after insertion to “refill” or “bulk up” the nucleus of a vertebral disc, into the spine. Taylor was not made fully aware of how experimental this treatment was with no other surgeon offering it in the UK.

Taylor underwent surgery a couple of months later at a private hospital. During insertion of the second of three implants, Taylor experienced severe pain so the third implant was not inserted.

Following the surgery, Taylor developed new symptoms including pain between their shoulder blades, radiating down to their left elbow and left little and ring fingers.

Post-operative MRI scans showed that the implants were mispositioned and were piercing and displacing the spinal cord. Initially, Taylor was advised by Mr Knight that the implants might shrink or could be removed but when Taylor sought advice from other spinal surgeons, they advised that the implants would not shrink and attempting to remove them would be risky and could cause significant damage.

Since the surgery, Taylor has experienced a deterioration in their mental health for which they have required treatment.

Taylor instructed Leigh Day solicitor Lauren Tully to investigate a clinical negligence claim. Evidence was gathered and it was alleged that Taylor’s informed consent to the surgery was not obtained because they were inappropriately advised that their symptoms were likely to deteriorate without surgery and they could end up in a wheelchair, when in fact the natural history of their condition is that most patients improve over time, without requiring surgery.

In addition, Taylor was not properly advised of their treatment options and was incorrectly advised that Gelstix were likely to help, when in fact evidence obtained suggest that the use of this treatment was unproven and without any peer-reviewed long term outcome data to support its use, especially in a patient like Taylor who was suffering from neck pain which radiated to the arms.

Had Taylor been advised that there was likely to be improvement without surgery, that there are proven surgeries available for the treatment of radiating neck pain and about the lack of evidence for the use of Gelstix to treat patients presenting with their symptoms, they would not have agreed to the Gelstix implants and would have opted for conservative and/or conventional treatments instead. On the balance of probabilities, Taylor’s symptoms would have improved with such treatment.

Leigh Day also argued on Taylor’s behalf that Mr Knight negligently used the wrong sized Gelstix implant, using the largest implant designed for use in the lumbar spine rather than one of the smaller cervical implants. It was also alleged that reasonable care was not taken when the implants were inserted, resulting in the implant extending beyond the disc and into the spinal cord.

As a result of the alleged negligence, Taylor is at risk of paralysis or significant deterioration due to further movement of the Gelstix implants into the spinal cord, development of a syrinx (a spinal cyst) or inflammation and/or swelling of the spinal cord causing further spinal cord injury.

Mr Knight denied liability, but a settlement was agreed whereby Taylor received compensation for their injuries, with the ability to have the case reopened and their compensation reassessed if they got worse as a result of the Gelstix implants.

Taylor said:

“Although many doctors have told me that my outcome could have been much worse, the impact on my day-to-day life is enormous.

“I am frightened to do anything now for fear of aggravating my physical health symptoms and living with the risk of paralysis takes a huge toll on my mental wellbeing, although I am grateful to be able to reopen the case if I do get worse.”

Lauren Tully said:

“Patients who are in pain and desperate for a solution are vulnerable. Understanding the immediate risks of surgery is challenging enough but the possible long-term ramifications of experimental treatment are far greater than most patients will be able to appreciate at the outset.

“As Taylor’s case shows, a lack of knowledge within the wider medical community means that any complications from the treatment are harder to predict and harder to fix, often leaving patients with lifelong uncertainty.”

Lauren Tully
Amputation Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Spinal injury Surgical negligence

Lauren Tully

Lauren Tully is a partner in the medical negligence department.

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