‘I have suicidal thoughts’

Zukiswa Belinda Stofile shows Vukani some of the documents she got from the Mitchells Plain hospital.

Distraught Gugulethu resident, Zukiswa Belinda Stofile, has accused two local hospitals of negligence and being the cause of her having lost the use of her left arm, and struggling to walk after she was operated on.

What was meant to be a happy day for Ms Stofile, in April 2014, turned into the start of a traumatic series of events. She was two months pregnant, doctors told her. Now, more than three years later, she looks back on that day with anguish.

When Vukani visited the 41-year-old mother of two, she was visibly in pain and battled to walk. Her affected hand was carefully folded and covered with a glove.

She told Vukani that doctors at Nyanga clinic had confirmed her pregnancy after she had gone there with complaints of pains in the lower left side of her abdomen.

She was later referred to Mitchell’s Plain District hospital for further examinations as her condition deteriorated. There she heard what no mother wants to hear: there was something wrong with the baby and doctors needed to remove it immediately or she would die.

More bad news: the baby would not survive. And so the procedure went ahead. Afterward, however, Ms Stofile was in more pain than before-and she walked with great difficulty. She thought this was normal and that the pain would eventually go away, but it did not, she said.

When she later went to see a private doctor, she was surprised to be told that she was six months pregnant. Before the emergency surgery she had, in fact, been carrying twins.

On the advice of this doctor, she returned to Mitchell’s Plain hospital and filled them in on the situation. They were unable to explain how they had missed the second baby, she said.

It turns out that Ms Stofile had had a heterotopic pregnancy, resulting from one ovum implanting inside the uterus, and another, outside the uterus.

Ms Stofile also complained that whatever damage was done to her arm, had happened when she was referred to Groote Schuur Hospital for a pregnancy scan.

“Ever since then I had been unable to use my hand. I’m struggling to support my children because I can’t walk or use both arms. I have tried to apply for a disability grant but the doctors at Mitchell’s Plain hospital refuse to write a letter confirming my disability. They claim that I’m not disabled. I have suicidal thoughts. But I just think about my children. If I kill myself who will look after them,” she said. The management of Mitchell’s Plain hospital met with Ms Stofile on September 18 2014, in a bid to resolve her case and to discuss the way forward with her treatment.

Two months later, her surviving baby was born, and since then, Ms Stofile has been trying to get help to sue the department of health and even approached the office of the Public Protector. “I have sent my complaints to the public protector’s office and they acknowledged that they got my email but until now they have not responded to my grievances,” she said.

On October 4 2016, after Ms Stofile laid another complaint relating to her dissatisfaction with her treatment at the hospital and to address what other healthcare needs and assistance she required from them, Mitchell’s Plain hospital’s management met with her again. And in a letter they sent to Ms Stofile later that month, it is outlined that she had had a heterotopic pregnancy and that she had presented with a “raptured tubical” pregnancy, which refers to a pregnancy implanted partly in the fallopian tube and partly in the uterus. The letter further states that her condition had required an emergency lapatoromy – an operation which allows doctors access to someone’s abdomen – and that her “simultaneous pregnancy” had been missed at the time of the emergency surgery.

In that letter, the hospital’s management apologised for her “negative experience” at the hospital.

Department of Health spokesperson, Monique Johnstone, said Ms Stofile’s pregnancy was a dangerous condition and difficult to diagnose, which is why the doctor treated Ms Stofile as an emergency and life-threatening case and removed the foetus in the fallopian tubes.

She said the doctor who had performed the emergency operation to remove the foetus in the fallopian tube, had not been aware of a second foetus in her womb.

“A heterotopic pregnancy occurs when a woman gets pregnant normally with a fertilised egg in her uterus, but there is also another fertilized egg outside her uterus. The location of the fertilised egg outside the uterus can vary, but it tends to end up in one of the fallopian tubes. “On 21 November 2016, Ms Stofile attended the hospital’s trauma unit, where an appointment was arranged for her to attend the obstetric and gynae clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital. In addition to that, a sick note (was issued) and medication for constipation was prescribed,” she said.

“The department is not in a position to comment on behalf of external entities regarding this case, and we encourage

Ms Stofile to forward her details via our complaints hotline by either sending us a please call me to 079 769 1207 or calling 0860 142 142 or emailing service@westerncape.gov.za in order for us to address her case and make the necessary referrals for her healthcare needs, as well as to make an appointment for her to see a social worker to discuss her grant request.”Ms Johnstone did not comment on Ms Stofile’s claims that the surgery had left her without the use of her left arm, and with injury to her legs.