Girl saved after first hospital condemned her to die

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Surgeons have saved the life of a three-year-old girl 18 months after her parents were told by cardiologists at another hospital her heart condition was inoperable and that she would die.

Surgeons have saved the life of a three-year-old girl 18 months after her parents were told by cardiologists at another hospital her heart condition was inoperable and that she would die.

Doctors at Leeds General Infirmary told Hannah Harkness's parents in January last year that she was too weak to withstand heart surgery and had three months to live. The couple refused to accept the prognosis, sought a second opinion and the child was referred to the cardiology unit at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, where she was cleared for surgery in May last year. After two operations, she has now been given a clean bill of health.

Karen and Colin Harkness, from Selby, North Yorkshire, who have eight children, are planning legal action against the Leeds hospital which, they claim, could have saved her.

Mr Harkness, 36, a security alarms engineer, said parents should realise that they "don't need to take a consultant or doctor's word as the be all and end all".

He said: "It makes you wonder how many children have died in the past. We want parents who may be in our situation to be aware that they should not just give up. We were made to suffer terriblyand we just want the hospital to know how much hurt they caused. We just felt theywrote her life off. We believe they were negligent and incompetent and we feel that had we not gone for a second opinion Hannah would now be dead."

Hannah was seven days old when doctors at the Leeds hospital's cardiology unit diagnosed a rare chromosome disorder, a deficient immune system and congenital heart disease. Her development and speech were also found to be slow. Tests showed she had two holes in her heart and an open duct that required surgery.

At first, the unit decided that Hannah did not need treatment and that she did not need to return to the hospital for another year. But in August 1998 she was struck down with a viral infection and became seriously ill.

Her condition continued to deteriorate over the next months, and in January last year her parents were called to the hospital for a meeting with doctors. They expected to be told that surgeons would operate, but were advised instead that the heart was irreparable, a transplant was out of the question and there was no hope. Mrs Harkness, 33, said: "We took Hannah home that weekend and none of us spoke for two days. We just sat and hugged our little girl. They didn't say it, but they were sending her home to die."

The couple spoke to cardiologists and support groups before making contact with the Freeman Hospital, where the two holes in Hannah's heart were repaired and the open duct plugged. Last week, a further hole in Hannah's heart was treated, and she is now recovering at home.

In a statement, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said the functioning of Hannah's heart was "very poor" in January 1999 and the decision not to operate was taken between a consultant cardiologist and a cardiac surgeon.

"It was felt the risks associated with the surgery were too high," said the statement. "We haven't been informed officially but we are aware the family is planning legal action."

Mrs Harkness said: "We thought long and hard about taking legal action and we decided to sue.

"We decided we have to show doctors that the decisions they make are so important to people's lives. They should have at least offered us a second opinion."

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