Cassandra died just two days after being admitted to Dubbo Hospital in 2013. She is survived by her five children.
Cassandra died just two days after being admitted to Dubbo Hospital in 2013. She is survived by her five children.

Simple mistake before mum’s death

A NEW South Wales hospital is being sued for "negligence" by the family of a woman who died after all her organs shut down because of complications resulting from an elbow infection.

Cassandra Leheny, 39, was admitted to Dubbo Base Hospital in the NSW central west on the afternoon of December 7, 2013 after she went to her GP complaining of severe elbow pain.

Her doctor immediately sent her to emergency and she died just two days later on December 9.

Ms Leheny leaves behind five children, ranging in age from 12 to 27. Her eldest son Jamie Leheny is suing Dubbo Hospital and the matter will go to mediation next month.

A spokeswoman for Western NSW Local Health District, which represents Dubbo Hospital, said "we are not able to comment on ongoing legal proceedings."

Renee (centre) with her five children.
Renee (centre) with her five children.

During her stay at Dubbo Hospital, Ms Leheny told medical staff that her pain varied between "a seven out of a 10 to a 10 out of 10" in her chest and abdomen. Her blood tests came back abnormal and an X-ray showed her elbow joint was full of fluid.

On December 8, her pain worsened and she began to present with an elevated heart rate.

On December 9, she had severe upper body pain, shortness of breath and low oxygen saturation. Her temperature was 35.4 degrees, well below the healthy 37.5 degrees.

That afternoon, she developed sepsis, a life-threatening complication of an infection.

Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. This can cause a cascade of changes that damage multiple organ systems, leading them to fail.

At 8.40pm, Ms Leheny's heart stopped. She was revived using CPR and her family were informed of how dire the situation was.

They made the heartbreaking decision to deny resuscitation if her heart stopped again. At 9pm she went into cardiac arrest and at 9.33pm she was declared deceased.

Mr Leheny's lawyers argue his mother's death was preventable and Dubbo Hospital should have prescribed antibiotics far earlier.

"This is a patient who fell through the cracks and alarm bells should have been ringing far sooner than they did," medical negligence expert at Shine Lawyers, Caryn Ger, told news.com.au.

"The prospect of infection was considered and treated only when the ship has sailed and it was far too late. By then Cassandra was septic and in organ failure. If she had received appropriate antibiotic therapy, that could have been avoided."

Ms Ger and Shine Lawyers argue medical staff tested Ms Leheny's elbow for bacteria and received a positive result, but still did not prescribe antibiotics.

"They drew the fluid and tested it for bacteria and held off providing antibiotics. They did not give her antibiotics until much later. They didn't recognise that this was an infectious illness of some description," she said.

Ms Ger is hoping Dubbo Hospital will offer the family a financial settlement.

"I'm hopeful we will be able to get them something that will make them feel like the hospital has recognised their negligence and how the damage of losing a mother affects young children," she said.

As Ms Leheny's children get older and come to terms with their mother's death, the money could bring "some sense of justice".

Cassandra (right) with a friend and her daughter.
Cassandra (right) with a friend and her daughter.

Mr Leheny told our sister paper news.com.au his mother was a single parent carer who was normally very healthy.

"Mum was never really unwell. She had just taken up an extra job and was quite fit at the time," Mr Leheny said.

He said his younger brothers and sisters have struggled to comprehend their new lives without their mother.

"It's impacted the younger kids' schooling a lot,to the point where the kids are teased about not having a mum. They stopped going to school. That really impacted them," Mr Leheny said.

"Theresa (the youngest, aged 12) is a little bit lost. She doesn't have a role model or a female in her life. That's the really sad part about it, is the three youngest kids having to go through their teenage years without a mother."

While financial compensation won't bring his mother back, it would relieve some of the burden now resting on his shoulders and help him care for his four siblings.

"It's quite hard to find any peace. I'd like to bring some healing to my family," he said.