Mother sues over baby `blunder'

pounds 1m claim over surgery after foetus incorrectly pronounced dead
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The Independent Online
A BUSINESSWOMAN who had surgery after doctors wrongly diagnosed that her baby had died in the womb sobbed as she told the High Court she was incapable of doing her job properly after the operation.

Suzy Hagstrom, 39, an American marketing director, broke down as she told the court she collapsed three times, was unable to concentrate and had pain in her abdomen after the surgery in 1993. She resigned in December 1994 and claims she has been unable to work since. She is claiming pounds 1m compensation from the hospital. The court heard that while visiting her mother in Britain in 1993, Mrs Hagstrom had an ultrasound examination and was told there was no foetal heartbeat. During an operation to remove the foetus, her uterus and bowel were perforated and she needed surgery. Eleven days later she had a second ultrasound at Royal Surrey County Hospital and was told her child was alive.

British-born Mrs Hagstrom, who also has an eight-year-old daughter, Danielle, gave birth to an apparently healthy baby, Christen Rose - a derivation of Christ Has Risen - in March 1994. But she was terrified her child would have problems as a result of the surgery. After returning to work in June 1994 with a Californian company, she said she was angry, emotionally drained and cried at work. "I was extremely distressed. I could not concentrate at work or in meetings, whereas before I was extremely detail-oriented. Nothing was in my brain - it was as if it had shut down," she said.

Mrs Hagstrom saw a counsellor at the instigation of her mother, but said she refused to discuss the operation. "I hated the thought of psychiatrists, doctors and anything to do with the medical profession. I did not want to talk about the trauma."

Cross-examining, Sally Smith QC for the hospital, said Mrs Hagstrom was simply overloaded with the pressures of work and two small children. But Mrs Hagstrom said: "The workload was just about the same but my ability to handle it had changed."

On 14 September she collapsed at work and was taken to hospital, where a doctor noted she was under great stress at work. She took two weeks off but shortly after returning she collapsed again. "I had numerous tests and everything came out negative and I wanted a magic pill that would make everything go back to normal," she said. The following month she resigned, which she said was "entirely my decision. Work had become overwhelmingly difficult for me. I thought I was going mad ... I had constant and recurrent thoughts about the hospital and nightmares about Christen," she said. After giving up work Mrs Hagstrom said her symptoms worsened and she was unable to do anything but sleep during the day. She continued with psychiatric counselling. The judge is to assess the amount of damages to be awarded.

The Royal Surrey County and St Luke's Hospital NHS Trust has admitted negligence but disputes whether her continuing difficulties stem from the medical treatment she received in August 1993.

The case continues.