Epidural case sparks medical review

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Epidural case sparks medical review
Grace Wang and baby Alex

The catastrophic medical accident at Sydney's St George Hospital that confined Grace Wang to a wheelchair and deprived her of the ability to hold her baby son has prompted a review of epidural procedures across the NSW health system.

Grace, 32, had antiseptic injected into her spinal instead of anaesthetic after a mix up between chemicals on the sterile equipment table as Grace began giving birth to her baby son Alexander on June 26 last year.

Related: My epidural hell

In an exclusive interview in this month's Australian Women's Weekly, the young mother revealed she has lost the majority of movement in her legs and now cannot lift her arms above her shoulders, hold her son or feed herself. She needs a mechanical sling to move in and out of bed.

It prompted a report by NSW Health that recommends topical antiseptics be banned from the sterile equipment table to stop them from being injected into patients accidentally, the Sydney Morning Herald says today. Further, the report says antiseptics should be distinctively coloured to reduce the possibility of confusing solutions used during the epidural procedure. The NSW Health Department says the report is an internal document, and refused to release it.

Grace's husband Jason told The Weekly that doctors administered an epidural to Grace, but realised shortly after that it had failed. They also noticed blood in the catheter indicating that it had touched a vein or artery.

Meeting epidural victim Grace Wang

During a second epidural the team noticed a pinkish tinge to the liquid they were injecting into Grace, which should have raised alarm bells, but they assumed the colour came from blood in the catheter. They continued the procedure, injecting eight millilitres of the antiseptic chlorhexidine into Grace's spine.

The report also suggested the NSW Health Department consider using different sized and coloured syringe plungers.

Read more of this story in the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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