Mum will swim again after suffering surgery blunder

Jo Roche, whose vocal chords were damaged during an operation on her thyroid gland
Jo Roche, whose vocal chords were damaged during an operation on her thyroid gland
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KEEN swimmer Joanne Roche was a regular down at her local baths in Bridlington.

Five times a week the mother of two would take to the water as a good way to keep fit, but also because she enjoyed it.

But for the last four years Jo hasn’t been able to swim.

When surgeon Nayef El-Bhargouti botched an operation to remove her thyroid the consequences left her with a tracheostomy, a tube which helps her breathe.

Swimming would risk water getting into the stoma in her neck which could prove fatal.

However, the determined mother of two is now preparing to get back into the water again thanks to special breathing appartus being used by a charity in Liverpool.

“I’ve really missed swimming, particularly with my children, especially on family holidays when I have to sit on the side of the pool and everyone else in the family feels guilty.

“This effects everyone, not just me.” Jo is married to David and has Calvin, 16 and Poppy, 13.

Although getting back in the pool is important for Jo’s fitness, it will also symbolise a step closer to the normal life she had before the surgeon’s knife went so badly wrong.

Jo was admitted to Scarborough Royal Infirmary in February 2008 for what should have been a routine operation to remove a thyroid gland.

But during the operation Jo suffered damage to her vocal chord nerves. After the surgery, she was unable to speak.

“When I came round from the operation I had a feeling something wasn’t right,” says Jo. “When they took me back up to the ward they put me right next to the nurses’ station. I couldn’t talk and if I lay flat I couldn’t breathe. I was really frightened and I started to panic.

“A doctor came up and said that there might have been some damage to one of my nerves.

“He said if it’s been crushed it will repair but if it’s been severed it won’t. The surgeon who did the operation came and the same thing and then I never saw him again until the General Medical Council hearing.”

It turned out that Mr Nayef El-Bhargouti was not skilled in thyroid surgery and Jo’s operation had been done in half the time it should have.

He had severed a nerve to her vocal chords, which were blocking her airways, leaving her struggling to breathe.

Last year, following a General Medical Council hearing, Mr El-Bhargouti was suspended from practising for 12 months.

“I was told that I would have to have a tracheostomy, but I was determined not to have one as I knew that it would change my life forever. At that stage it was taking me 12 seconds to take in a lung full of air.”

She went back to work part-time but realised she was struggling.

“I am a real chatterbox normally and by the end of a day I was really struggling to speak and was exhausted,”

Four months after the operation, Jo just couldn’t breathe at all and was told that she desparately needed a tracheostomy.

“It was very scary. I cried all the way to the hospital. It wasn’t something I wanted and it means that there are things that I will never be able to do or I am nervous about doing.

“But you have to get on with and things are settling down now and I am getting used to it.”

The tracheostomy is permanent, although Jo has been offered an operation which would mean removing part of her vocal chord which is blocking her airway.

“But that would leave me with a permanently open airway and they cannot guarantee how much voice I would have. I’m starting to think that I am probably better the way I am.”

Jo has to block the hole in her tracheostomy to talk which means she can’t use both hands to do something and speak at the same time.

And up until now she’s had to give up her beloved swimming.

Through Neil Hudgell Solicitors, Jo successfully claimed for medical negligence from Scarborough and North East Yorkshire NHS Trust. She now plans to use some of the compensation she received to pay for the swimming training, the travel to Liverpool and the special breathing apparatus, which costs around £250.

“There is a special snorkel which I can be trained to use which would enable me to swim again. The problem at the moment the insurance costs the swimming club £2,500 and last year they only had four people so I am not sure what will happen although I am determined that I will be swimming again this year.

“It would mean so much to me to able to do something normal with the family again and to do something that I thought I would never be able to do again.”

Jo is still angry at her treatment and the surgeon who operated on her.

“We were really pleased that his registration was suspended, but it is very scary to think that he might work here again.”

The undisclosed compensation she received from the NHS Trust goes someway to making life a little easier for Jo.

“When it first happened people said I should sue the hospital but I didn’t see the point; no amount of money can compensate for what’s happened to me.

“But then when things got worse and I didn’t know whether I would be able to go back to work I decided to.

“It means that I can afford to work part-time and things aren’t quite so much of a struggle. My friends and family have been amazing, but it’s not just me who’s been through this.

“Everytime the kids bring someone new home you see them staring and although it doesn’t bother me, it affects them.

“My daughter still doesn’t like it, especially when I have to clean the tubes. It’s human nature. It has been hard but you just have to pick yourself up and get on with it. I have got two children and they don’t stop just because I have a tracheostomy. You just have to get on and look for the positives. I am still here; I can still walk and go out and about and get with life.”