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The Bristol heart babies Friday, 19 March, 1999, 17:24 GMT
Surgeon obtained consent 'fraudulently'
14.00- 18-03-99 op ac
Verity Curnow had a shunt operation to fix a heart defect
One of the disgraced surgeons at the centre of the Bristol Royal Infirmary scandal told parents a complex heart procedure carried no risk in itself, the inquiry heard.

Malcolm Curnow told the hearing Mr Janardhan Dhasmana said an operation to correct a heart defect posed no danger to their daughter Verity.

The Bristol Heart Babies
They said Mr Dhasmana only mentioned the risk posed by a general anaesthetic, which comes with any procedure.

Verity died following surgery performed by Mr Dhasmana in September 1990.

But Mr Curnow said he only signed the consent form for the procedure because he thought the risks were minimal.

He added that he believes consent was obtained fraudulently.

Surgeons' reputations defended

However, another grieving parent later told the inquiry how Mr James Wisheart, Mr Dhasmana's boss, did everything and could to save her daughter.

Michelle Cummings is a leading spokeswoman for the Bristol Surgeons' Support Group, which is seeking to restore the reputation of the doctors.

She described how her first child died following efforts by a medical team to save her.

Charlotte Cummings died - a few days before her second birthday - after her heart failed.

But Mrs Cummings praised the constant care of Mr Wisheart and hospital staff.

She said that she and her husband Rob were fully informed of any medical procedures involved and their risks.

She described Mr Wisheart as a "sensitive, caring" man who had given her daughter a better quality of life.

And she told how Mr Dhasmana, who had cared for Charlotte in Mr Wisheart's absence, comforted her in the corridor.

"He gave me a big hug and expressed his sorrow at our loss," she said. "He is an incredibly genuine and sensitive man."

'Look of death'

But Mr Curnow told the inquiry why he was not so happy with the care his daughter received.

Mr Curnow is a leading member of the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, which campaigned for the Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry to be set up.

14.00- 18-03-99 curnow ac
Malcolm Curnow could see his daughter was going to die
On Thursday he told it how his daughter emerged from the operation looking ready to die.

"She had that look about her and I knew that something had gone drastically wrong," he said.

It was made worse by the fact he had been confident the operation would succeed, he said.

"The fact we had been given this encouragement, this reassurance and this total confidence that when we saw her for the first time that she would be bright pink and significantly better than when she went into theatre, and that she was now visibly more than 10 times worse, was gut-wrenching."

Mr Curnow said that following the operation, Mr Dhasman had come to see him, but could not look him in the eye.

He said Mr Dhasmana's first words were "I am sorry". The surgeon then explained that "things were worse than I expected" when he looked inside Verity's chest.

Verity died four days later.

Born with heart problems

Verity was born seemingly healthy in December 1989, but within a few days of returning home a midwife noticed problems.

The baby had difficulty breast-feeding and her lips turned blue when she showed signs of stress.

A local GP referred her to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, and later to Bristol Children's Hospital.

Tests showed that one of Verity's arteries had not fully developed causing others to grow to compensate for it.

Dr Steve Jordan, who made the diagnosis, told the Curnows the problem might correct itself and there was no immediate need for surgery.

However, Verity contracted a chest infection in July 1990 and returned to hospital. A check confirmed the situation with her arteries had not changed.

Bristol 'was a suitable unit'

The Curnows were told the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) would be a suitable unit for the operation, known as a shunt, that was necessary to correct the defect.

14.00- 18-03-99 dhasmana ac
Mr Janardhan Dhasmana said there was little risk
A shunt involves removing the pulmonary artery and replacing it with a tube.

Mr Curnow said he had every confidence in going to the BRI.

When the family arrived for the operation, the couple met Mr Dhasmana for the first time.

He told them Verity would be bright pink the first time they saw her after the operation.

"We were given the impression that this was a very simple routine and uncomplicated operation," Mr Curnow said.

Underplayed risk

He said Mr Dhasmana told him: "The only risk to Verity is the risk of anaesthetic that comes with any operation."

"I felt this was as close to perfect as I could get," Mr Curnow said.

Mr Curnow said Verity died in the intensive treatment unit four days after the operation.

"At around 6pm in the ITU, Verity collapsed. Alarms began to sound and the nurses came running. One nurse left to bleep the doctor on call. Obviously, Verity was in the process of dying," he said.

He added: "I feel that consent was obtained fraudulently because information that was available, as I now know, was substantially different.

"Had I known then what I know now, we would not have signed that consent form."

See also:

17 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
22 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
17 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
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