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On 30 June 2009, three-month-old Matas Juozaitis swallowed a small button battery. His father, Kestutis, reacted immediately but was unable to force Matas to cough up the battery and so called an ambulance.
Matas was taken to Abingdon Hospital and then sent on to the John Radcliffe Hospital where he arrived approximately four hours after first swallowing the battery. Matas was very pale and had vomited several times. However, rather than operate to remove the battery as soon as he arrived in hospital, medical staff took the decision to leave him overnight.
By early next morning Matas had become very unsettled and was clearly having problems. His condition then deteriorated dramatically and a chest x-ray revealed that air had leaked into the space between his right lung and chest wall, causing the lung to collapse. In addition, the battery had burned a hole in his oesophagus and caused superficial damage to the aorta.
Matas then underwent major emergency surgery involving removal of part of the oesophagus and joining the two ends as well as removing the battery. Fortunately, the aorta had not been damaged too severely. He was then kept in intensive care and was finally discharged from hospital more than three weeks after his emergency admission. However, he continued to suffer frequent vomiting and regurgitation and had difficulty swallowing certain foods which stuck to his considerably narrowed oesophagus.
13 further surgical procedures under general anaesthetic to dilate the oesophagus were necessary and it was not until he was almost two and a half years old that Matas could face eating any sort of solid food and, even then, he required a large fluid intake to assist with his swallowing.
Matas is now 10 years old and continues to suffer discomfort when eating and must avoid certain types of food that stick in his oesophagus and will likely need to do so for the rest of his life. He may also require further surgery in future and will have to live with some unsightly scarring because of the operations.
The family approached Shoosmiths for help and guidance about making a claim. Alex Haider, a solicitor in Shoosmiths’ medical negligence team said:
‘As a result of the hospital adopting a wait and see approach, instead of taking immediate action to remove the battery, it burned a hole in Matas’ oesophagus and caused damage to the aorta, requiring far more complex and invasive surgery. This in turn has left Matas with the potential for problems for the rest of his life.’
The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust admitted that they negligently failed to take the urgent action required to remove the battery immediately. After considerable negotiation, a settlement was reached. Alex notes:
‘Even if there had been no negligence, Matas would have required some sort of surgical procedure to remove the battery. However, this would have been removed endoscopically and instead of spending three weeks in hospital, Matas would have left the following day, never having to suffer all the subsequent distressing difficulties he endured.’