Tanya Osborne died five days after the heart operation that she hoped would help her run as fast as other little girls. At five years old, she was a mischievous character who longed to be as fit as her friends. But Tanya barely regained consciousness after the 10-hour operation performed by James Wisheart at Bristol Royal Infirmary in September 1987.
Her mother, Jayne Cole, had been told by Mr Wisheart that surgery to correct the child's malformed heart had an 80 per cent chance of success, and at the time, she had every faith in his ability to get it right.
Fourteen years later, hardly an hour passes in which Mrs Cole, who has since remarried, does not think about her daughter. "I think about her all the time. I think about what she would have been like, how she would have been at school, when she would have got married, what she would be doing now," said Mrs Cole. "I know when you lose a child you never get over it. But with Bristol, there seems to be no moving on. Something else seems to emerge all the time."
Mrs Cole, 39, only learnt the full truth about Tanya's death, and the culpability of Mr Wisheart, when her daughter's medical records were examined by an independent heart surgeon last year. The report revealed that Mr Wisheart severed a small artery as he stitched up the front of her heart, failed to close one of the holes inside her heart and did not adequately protect the organ during surgery.
In her evidence to the inquiry last year, Mrs Cole said she was "horrified to learn that Mr Wisheart's corrective surgery was almost certainly responsible for Tanya's death".
Tanya's case is one of just two where United Bristol Health Care Trust was forced to admit liability for the surgeon's failings and accept that Tanya's treatment was below standard. Although Mrs Cole has not accepted any compensation, about 60 other families who lost children have received £20,000 for their bereavement, a settlement which has been branded "derisory."
Parents of 55 children who were left brain-damaged after surgery at Bristol, and some other families who suffered fatalities, are still waiting for compensation six years after the scandal broke. Damages in the most severe brain injury cases, where children will need a lifetime of care, will run into millions of pounds and the total payout could top £50m.
Laurence Vick, a solicitor at Michelmores, Exeter, who has represented 100 families, said it was vital that parents who were left to care for disabled children received early settlements. But he added: "For most of the families pursuing fatal claims, compensation has been of secondary importance to their quest for the truth."
During Tanya's life, Mrs Cole had complete trust in Mr Wisheart and when she split from her first husband and moved to Southport, Merseyside, she insisted her daughter's care should remain with him. "I was adamant that her cardiac care should remain in Bristol, under him," said Mrs Cole. "He seemed to me very confident."
Mrs Cole remembers crying with shock and stress when the hospital telephoned to tell her that Tanya could be admitted for surgery. "Tanya was telling me not to cry," Mrs Cole recalled. "She said: 'Don't cry, mum. He is going to make me pink and run faster.' It was a shock, but we were optimistic."
After the operation, Mr Wisheart was non-commital, saying it had gone "as well as could be expected". But Tanya went into decline and Mrs Cole remembers that "most of the staff seemed to believe it was inevitable she was going to die".
Back in Southport, Mrs Cole tried to rebuild her life with her older daughter Lisa, now aged 21. But she felt she had been given no proper explanation for Tanya's death and she tried to find out what had gone wrong. When she realised the mistakes that Mr Wisheart had made, she was appalled by his cavalier attitude and the way he appeared to try to cover them up. "I am disgusted by the way my family was treated by the Bristol trust, and by Mr Wisheart personally, and I hope nothing like this ever happens again," she said.Reuse content