Former lorry driver, Frank Hibbard, 69, from Luton, had an operation on his prostate in 2001 – but after years of battling agonising pain that baffled doctors, it wasn”t until 2014 that medics realised a swab had been left in his pelvis.
There was now a melon-sized cancerous mass attached to the swab and Frank needed emergency surgery – however he died just days before the surgery was due to take place.
His devastated widow, Christine, 70, has since taken legal action against Luton and Dunston Hospital who have admitted mistakenly leaving behind a swab after his first operation.
Despite him having a CT scan in 2003, the swab was only spotted when Frank”s health rapidly deteriorated 11 years later.
Christine, a retired legal secretary, said: “I was in total shock when we went to the hospital in June 2014 and saw a large white mass.
“It looked like a fishing hook and the doctor later explained that it was clearly a swab which had been left inside him.
“Frank had been in agony and his health had rapidly declined, something that sparked the CT scan 20 months ago.”
The couple knew the swab had come from the operation he had in 2001 as he hadn”t undergone any further surgery since. Christine added: “We were told the swab had calcified and grown around veins.
“Frank needed an operation to remove the mass as soon as possible, but he became too weak and fell into a deep coma-like sleep for seven days, before he died in my arms.
“Part of me died that day too, as ever since I have felt lost and alone. My husband of nearly 50 years and my best friend was gone forever.”
Frank had a scan in 2003 after suffering pains in his pelvis but nothing was picked up. Christine added: “I can”t believe it was found 13 years after his first operation in 2001.
“All those years he lived with a swab inside him. I just feel the health system badly let him down.
“In my view the poor treatment left him in agony and had a massive impact on his health. I am so angry and always will be.”
Having first met him when Christine was just 16, and married two years later in September 1964, Frank”s death has left a massive hole in the life of Christine, her two children and four grandchildren.
Christine said: “The pain is still intensely raw and remains at the forefront of my mind. He is the first thing I think about when I wake and I have difficulty sleeping without him. The crushing pain comes from knowing he is never coming back.
“We went everywhere and did everything together, in the days that followed I was afraid to go out of the house.
“Frank was my rock, and life will never be the same without him.” Luton and Dunstable University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has admitted breach of duty in relation to the swab being left behind in Frank, as well as admitting that a key opportunity was missed to spot and remove the swab on a scan the following year.
Now, Christine is taking legal action against the Trust, through medical negligence experts Hudgell Solicitors, claiming the hospital”s errors were completely unacceptable.
Renu Daly, a medical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, said: “There is quite simply no excuse or explanation that can be given to defend the error of leaving a swab behind inside a patient following an operation. It is a simple case of counting the swabs in and back out again to ensure a mistake is not made.
“It has left many serious questions to be asked at the inquest as to how this sort of error could ever happen, and the full impact this had on the quality of life Mr Hibbard was able to enjoy with his family.”
A full inquest into Frank”s death is due on March 7. A spokesperson from Luton and Dunstable NHS Trust, said: “We extend our condolences to Mr Hibbard”s family and apologise sincerely for the error that took place in 2001 when a swab was unintentionally left in situ after a surgical procedure.
“The retained swab was discovered in 2014. We carried out a thorough internal review and provided an explanation and apology to Mr Hibbard”s family.
“We would like to apologise again for the error, and for the fact that a key opportunity to identify and remove the swab was missed during a CT scan in 2003. “This is clearly something that should never have happened.
“We would like to reassure Mr Hibbard”s family that, since the time of this incident, we were one of the first hospitals in the UK to introduce the World Health Organisation”s Safe Surgery Checklist to minimise the possibility of this happening again.”