Botched surgery damages Manitoba woman's kidneys

A Manitoba woman says her life has changed since she underwent a botched surgery last year that led to kidney failure and other health issues.

Kim Bernshine's bowel mistakenly punctured during 2011 operation

Kim Bernshine wants answers from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, following a botched hysterectomy that punctured her bowel and caused kidney failure and a blood infection. 1:50

A Manitoba woman says her life has changed since she underwent a botched surgery last year that led to kidney failure and other health issues.

Kim Bernshine, 52, said she was told her hysterectomy and related surgical procedures in February 2011 would require a five-day stay at St. Boniface General Hospital.

Bernshine ended up in the hospital for 68 days, and she has not been able to work since.

Kim Bernshine has undergone three procedures, and now requires a colostomy bag, following a botched surgical procedure in February 2011. (CBC)

"I'll never be my old self," she told CBC News. "I don't have the strength anymore."

The surgeon mistakenly pierced Bernshine's bowel during the operation.

As a result, her body waste started leaking inside her, infecting her blood and causing kidney failure.

Bernshine said it took 10 days for hospital staff to realize what was wrong.

Medical lawsuits can be difficult, lawyer says

Patients who claim to be the victims of mistakes in surgery often have a difficult time extracting compensation or even an explanation of what went wrong, according to Winnipeg lawyer Robert Tapper, an authority on medical lawsuits.

Commenting on Bernshine's case, Tapper said that in general, it is very difficult to prove the surgeon has been negligent in such a case because a nicked bowel is one of the known risks in a hysterectomy, since the two organs are close together.

While he said the hospital likely should have spotted the complication sooner, Tapper noted compensation through a lawsuit is an uphill struggle.

"Lawsuits have to make commercial sense or you don't go into them," Tapper told CBC News. "They are very difficult. They are very lengthy. They can take years. They cost piles of money for investigations and getting expert reports and the like."

The Canadian Medical Protective Association, which insures doctors against malpractice suits, also has a reputation of fighting tooth and nail to defend lawsuits, Tapper added.

Even if Bernshine were able to win a case, the amount of compensation awarded may not be worth the amount of time and money spent to prevail, he said.

The Winnipeg Heath Authority has said it is reviewing the woman's experience, but Tapper said it is unlikely the WRHA will share its findings with Bernshine.

"Critical incident reviews are typically for the betterment of safety standards in the hospital not for the patient to know anything," he said. "And if she has a lawyer lurking in the background … they are for sure going to clam up."

"They told my husband that it could go either way, meaning I'm not getting better; I could die," she said.

Bernshine said she has since undergone three procedures to fix the issues, and she now requires a colostomy bag.

She is calling on the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) to issue an apology and to provide compensation to replenish her pension fund.

The WRHA acknowledges that Bernshine's case is what it calls a "critical incident."

Health authority officials declined an interview with CBC News, saying they have not yet met with Bernshine to discuss the results of their investigation into her case.

Bernshine said she had requested those results in writing, but she was denied.

When Bernshine asked about compensation, she said she was told to sue the surgeon.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said it's upsetting to hear that Bernshine has not been offered any compensation.

"The WRHA should be the one who takes the lead on this," he said Thursday.

"They should be ready to offer compensation, and they should bring in somebody who's a third party who can talk to both sides and recommend an appropriate level of compensation under the circumstances."