Anna's remarkable recovery

The Guardian has shared the story of Anna White who was 15 when what should have been routine appendix surgery resulted in a major brain injury.

The surgery in 2011 left Anna with profound physical disabilities although her intellectual capacity was unimpaired. Her recovery has surprised professionals and now aged 21, a video shows Anna walking. She also talks with her mum on how life changed, touching on subjects such as friendships and going out.

Care after the injury

Initially Anna was unable to walk or talk and communicated through a clear communication board. She needed round-the-clock care and her mother, Donna White, gave up her job to look after Anna full time. Back in 2015, Donna told The Guardian: “It’s like having a newborn baby. Everything a newborn baby needs, that’s what I do.” Now 21, Anna is “defying the expectations of her doctors and making an extraordinary recovery,” according to The Guardian. She has been receiving specialist private care for the past two years paid for with interim payments from a settlement with Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS foundation trust after a six-year legal battle. The trust admitted liability for Anna’s injuries in 2015, but has only recently settled the case in full for an undisclosed sum.

Anna’s recovery

Anna can now perform simple, everyday tasks such as brushing her teeth, combing her hair, eating and even putting on makeup. She can speak and stand for brief periods unaided. The Whites credit her recovery to twice-weekly speech and language therapy, intensive physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. “I’m very proud of my recovery,” Anna said. “I didn’t expect to recover as much, people told me I wouldn’t.” Anna is making plans for the future including a holiday to Los Angeles and eventually moving into her own home.

The legal case

The Guardian reported: “White’s appendectomy in September 2011 appeared to go well, but when she was in recovery, she had a cardiac arrest and a respiratory arrest. It took five months for the trust to admit to the Whites that a cannula used to deliver anaesthetic during the procedure had not been flushed out. “When the same cannula was used to administer fluids after the surgery, an additional anaesthetic dose was inadvertently delivered, which stopped her heart and starved her brain of oxygen. White was revived in time to save her life, but left with life-changing brain damage.”

Remarkable progress

Donna spoke to the Guardian in 2015 and said the worst thing was that she would not hear her daughter’s voice again. But Anna’s voice has now returned, as shown in her video. Dr James Overell, a consultant neurologist at Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow, acted as an expert witness in Anna’s case against the trust. “When I first met Anna in 2015, it had already been three or four years since her original injury. We felt it would be unlikely that she would improve at all,” said Dr Overell. “Usually, neurological recovery after this kind of injury would take two or three years and then reach a static rate. But she has substantially improved in the fifth and sixth year after her injury and continued to improve. That is quite unusual.” The Guardian reported that the team treating Anna hope she will continue to make progress, but stress that her physical capacity will always be limited. She will need physiotherapy for the rest of her life in order to maintain the level of improvement she has already reached. Dr Overell continued: “She’s gained a lot of functional independence: she’s able to feed herself and she can communicate. She’s going to have a better quality of life. “But I don’t think she’s ever going to be able to work or live independently. She’s always going to be severely disabled. She’s always going to need a lot of care.” As well as providing for her therapy, Anna’s compensation assures her mother that her daughter will be cared for even when she herself gets older. Lauren Tully, a clinical negligence specialist at the law firm Slater and Gordon, which represented the family, said: “Anna was the innocent victim of a devastating and avoidable mistake, and the priority here was to make sure that she would be looked after, whatever happens. “While her progress so far and her prognosis are better than any of us could have hoped for, she may still need care for the rest of her life. No one knows what the future holds, but I very much hope that it will see Anna’s continued improvement.”
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