A 68-year-old Galway woman with an incurable respiratory disease has spoken of her devastation after being denied a double-lung transplant and told that she is to be left to die.
Teresa Kelly from Loughrea developed pulmonary fibrosis after metallic clips were implanted in her leg during surgery on her veins twelve years ago. She was highly allergic to nickel contained in the clips.
The mother-of-one says she was never consulted about the use of the clips, and did not know they were in her body until six-and-a-half years after the surgery. By that time, she had developed a number of incurable complications.
Ms Kelly was told last October that she would need a double-lung transplant, and underwent tests and preparation for the life-saving operation. However, she was told last month that the transplant would not be going ahead.
“I was brought by ambulance from Galway to Dublin especially for the doctor to tell me that he wasn’t doing my double-lung transplant, and he wouldn’t tell me why,” she said.
“So, I asked ‘Where does that leave me? Where do I go from here?’ He didn’t answer. I said ‘Am I just left to die?’ and he just nodded and said ‘Yes,’” recalled the Galway woman.
“He told me straight out that I have no other choice but that I am left to die, and he said my transplant wasn’t worth it. That is exactly what he said,” she added.
Ms Kelly has continued to ask medics in Galway and Dublin why she was refused a double-lung transplant, but says she has been met with silence and obfuscation.
She claims that doctors are unwilling to carry out a procedure that could highlight errors that were made in implanting the metallic clips, which ultimately resulted in her condition.
“They would rather see me die than expose their own mistakes,” she said. “And I am left without any answers. It is absolutely devastating.”
Ms Kelly, who has three grandchildren, underwent vascular surgery on her right leg in 2005, during which ten metallic clips were inserted and remained in her body. “They never told me and they never asked if I had an allergy,” she explained.
The allergic reaction to nickel in the clips resulted in an incurable autoimmune disease called ANCA vasculitis, which attacks the body’s own cells and tissues.
This resulted in recurring infections, and Ms Kelly was prescribed nitrofurantoin – an antibiotic usually employed only for short-term use. She remained on this medication for six-and-a-half years.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis – an incurable disease that causes scarring of the lungs. It is a known complication of long-term use of nitrofurantoin.
It was at this stage that the presence of the metallic clips in her leg was discovered. They were removed and the recurring infections abated.
“I just want them to tell me why they won’t do the double-lung transplant,” said Ms Kelly, who ran her own hairdressing business until 2008.
Last week, she wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris, seeking an explanation as to why she has been denied life-saving surgery and told that she is to be left to die. She is awaiting substantive replies.
A spokesperson for Saolta University Healthcare Group undertook to investigate the circumstances of the case, but later reverted to state that no comment could be provided in relation to individual patients.
A HSE spokesperson also refused to comment on the same basis, but advised that any patient with concerns about their care should contact their consultant directly.