Woman says part of leg amputated after broken foot went undiagnosed for 2 months
Warning: A graphic image in this story may be disturbing
A broken foot is a painful but not unusual injury. Losing your leg as a result is anything but.
According to St. John's resident Samantha Rideout, 30, her right leg was amputated below the knee after it took two months for a proper diagnosis, and even longer for her concerns to be taken seriously by Eastern Health staff.
"It's not like I went in and I just lost a toe or a finger. It's a whole leg, and it took a big part of my life away," said Rideout, a single mother of three young children living in St. John's.
Rideout was born with spina bifida — a spinal birth defect that, for her, leaves little sensation in her feet. She injured her right foot and knee after she slipped and fell down the stairs of her home last fall.
She said she went to the Health Sciences Centre because she felt something was wrong.
"I told them … 'I don't feel anything on my feet ever. And now I do feel something — which is very, very strange for me,'" Rideout said.
But despite multiple trips to the emergency room, X-rays, and rounds upon rounds of antibiotics, Rideout said, it took two months for her broken foot to be diagnosed.
By the time an orthopedic surgeon intervened in her care, it was too late, she said — her right leg had to be amputated from the knee down.
Eastern Health told CBC News it cannot speak specifically to Rideout's case, due to privacy legislation.
But, in an emailed statement, a spokesperson said "providing safe, quality care" is the health authority's No. 1 priority.
"When a person presents at any health-care facility at Eastern Health, staff are trained to assess the patient's health issue and to provide expert advice on the best options for meeting those needs," the statement reads.
"Eastern Health takes every complaint seriously, and will make every effort to resolve an individual's concerns."
While Eastern Health said it couldn't provide further information, Rideout requested her own medical records, and gave them to CBC News.
When Rideout fell down her stairs in September, she took quite a tumble.
"I took the first stair and just missed it completely. So when I did, my right leg was up behind my head," she said.
Rideout said she told the emergency room staff that she was worried about her foot.
"They kind of just focused on my knee and nothing else. I kept mentioning my foot and [the doctor] kept saying, 'We'll get to that.'"
But the doctor only ordered X-rays for her knee.
Rideout said she was told she had torn cartilage and to keep weight off it as much as possible.
After the diagnosis, she didn't have a ride, so she decided to walk — about a 20-minute journey.
Rideout said her foot bothered her every step of the way, but it wasn't until she got home that she became concerned.
When she took off her shoe, Rideout discovered her right foot was badly swollen and covered in bruises.
She said she put on her slippers — her foot wouldn't go back into her shoe — and walked back to the emergency room, where her foot was X-rayed.
"[The doctor] was like, 'We didn't see anything on the X-rays. Someone will send them off to a specialist and someone will call you later,'" Rideout said.
"I never did get a call. Ever."
Rideout said that since she said she didn't hear any news about her X-ray, she assumed her foot wasn't broken.
In an attempt to make walking as painless as possible, she started placing all her weight on one area of her foot.
Over time, a blister developed and Rideout thought it could be infected, so she headed to the hospital for antibiotics.
"They did X-rays on it … and the doctor on call in the ER that night told me that I had multiple breaks in my foot and asked if there was an injury that happened," Rideout said.
She said she told them about her slip and fall almost two months earlier.
Doctors started her on IV antibiotics, as they had in the past. But this time, instead of admitting her to the hospital, she said, she was sent home and told to come back for daily treatments.
The change in care confused her.
"Any other time I've had [an] infection, it was always a bone infection," she said.
"They always admitted me right away and did surgery to clean out the infection, and kept me in the hospital for a month, then crutches for a long time, then a walking boot, until it was all healed."
While the injury was making it troublesome to get back and forth to class at Academy Canada, it was the daily visits to the hospital that were more than she could handle.
"I had to take a leave [of absence]. It was just too much," Rideout said.
'I just knew something was wrong'
In mid-November, Rideout's symptoms worsened.
"I felt extremely sick. I had a high fever. I hadn't eaten in over a week. And I just knew something was wrong."
She went back to the ER, and Rideout said the physician on duty sent her for more X-rays and blood work.
What happened next shocked her.
"The doctor came back and told me everything looked perfect," she said.
"Now, if you looked at my foot, anyone would know it's still infected. It was still red. It was still hot to the touch. ... But he said the infection was gone and that I no longer needed to be on IV antibiotics anymore."
The physician wrote her a prescription for one week of oral antibiotics.
Rideout would not make it to the end of that prescription before ending up back at the Health Sciences.
A doctor assessed her symptoms and immediately placed her back on the IV antibiotics she had been taken off of just days before.
'He did do everything in his power to fix my foot'
Rideout later received a referral to a wound-care clinic on Major's Path, and said her treatment improved drastically once she came under the care of an orthopedic surgeon.
"He listened to me more. I found he was more thoughtful about what I was saying and he understood that I have no feeling in my feet — [that] this is what can happen and how bad it can get," she said.
The specialist changed her antibiotics and immediately got her on crutches — despite being consistently told they were unnecessary, she said.
In January, after almost two months on her new course of medication, Rideout underwent surgery to try to clean out the infection in her foot.
"I ended up getting extremely ill again: throwing up, high fever. I went to see [the specialist], and he admitted me right there on the spot."
The doctor ordered an MRI of Rideout's foot. The results convinced him drastic intervention was needed to stop the infection from spreading further.
"He did do everything in his power to fix my foot," Rideout said.
"The day that he told me I was going to have to lose my foot ... he was very upset that this was the outcome of everything."
Rideout said the orthopedic surgeon explained her two options: She could have half her foot removed and risk the infection coming back, or have her leg removed from the knee down, which would remove the risk completely.
It was a difficult decision, but she decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
"My kids were a big factor. I knew that I needed to be here for them. I'm a single mom, so it's pretty much only me they have," she said.
"And I was just sick of being sick."
'Missing a part of me'
In March, Rideout's leg was amputated at the knee.
She remained in hospital for two weeks, where physiotherapists prepared her for life as an amputee.
Now, Rideout said, she struggles with stairs, but hopes to get a prosthesis within a few months.
Rideout said her four- and five-year-old daughters are adjusting well. The eldest often asks her when she will get her "robot leg."
She said her six-year-old son has been a bit more withdrawn, but is coping well.
"The other night, he told me, 'You know, mommy, just because you have your foot gone … you're still the same person,'" Rideout said.
"I said, 'Yeah I am, there's nothing different. I'm just missing a part of me.'"
Encourages others to speak out
Rideout said she knows it won't bring back her leg, but she wants some sort of justice for an outcome she feels, with proper care, could have been avoided.
She said the orthopedic surgeon who tried to save her foot shares that opinion.
"He said… the day that he told me the news [about my amputation] that I probably had a bone infection this whole time, and it was just getting worse and worse and worse."
Rideout said she's considering legal action pending the outcome of Eastern Health's response to her concerns.
She advises anyone who feels their health concerns are being dismissed or not taken seriously: "I would tell them to fight for their medical rights, and if you think that something's wrong, say it.
"And if they don't listen to you, find someone else who will."