‘It’s like prison’: The mother’s life was ‘ruined’ by an operation she shouldn’t have done

'It's like prison': The mother's life was 'ruined' by an operation she shouldn't have done

A mother has lifelong chronic pain after spinal surgery she shouldn’t have had.

Donna Johnstone, 48, said sometimes she felt like driving her car off a cliff after struggling with the severity of the pain.

She can no longer work in the family business, rarely leaves the house and even misses her eldest daughter’s university degree.

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The mum-of-two, from Ashton-in-Makerfield, was first referred to the Walton Center in Liverpool after presenting to her GP in 2013 with “nagging” arm and neck pain.

A surgeon at the NHS hospital, which specializes in treating neurological conditions, advised her to have surgery to remove a spinal disc in her neck after the scans.

Donna Johnstone with her father

However, since the operation, she has had excruciating pain on a daily basis, which has prevented her from leading a normal life and which can only be alleviated with a powerful cocktail of drugs.

After a trial in Manchester Civil Court, a judge ruled that “no sane group of neurosurgeons would have offered surgery” when the surgeon at the Walton Center did so.

Judge Claire Evens said if Ms Johnstone had been “properly advised” she would not have proceeded to surgery.

She also agreed with two neurological experts that the mother’s pain has been “worsened” by the surgery and subsequent surgeries since 2013.

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The Walton Center has since been asked to pay Donna six figures in compensation following the trial last May.

They have also officially apologized to the mother-of-two, admitting they “let her down”.

Donna believes she developed the original pain after years of making electrical cables at the family business, Roga Cables.

She had worked full-time until the day of the surgery on August 27, 2013, but since the surgery, Donna has never been able to return to work.

Donna told the Manchester Evening News the compensation payment was “irrelevant” to her and would only be used to manage the chronic pain she faces on a daily basis.

She says she was led to believe surgery was her only treatment option.

“I’ve lost my whole identity as a busy working mom,” she said.

“My family also lost the wife and mother I used to be and now they have to take care of me.

“I can’t go on vacation as it becomes even more difficult to manage the pain in different accommodations.

“It’s like being trapped in a prison with no prospect of ever being released.”

The Walton Center in Liverpool

The mum believes the pain she initially felt in her arm and neck was due to spending around eight hours a day on a machine – where her head was “crooked”.

She went to her GP, who sent her to physical therapy before being recommended by her physical therapist to see a neurosurgeon.

An MRI revealed a problem with her spinal disc in her neck, and Donna was seen by a surgeon at the Walton Center, who recommended surgery.

“I was very reluctant to have surgery because my brother was paralyzed after surgery,” Donna said.

Her sister suffered catastrophic injuries after being hit by a drunk driver in 2005 and now requires round-the-clock care from Donna’s parents.

“The thought of having throat surgery was terrifying. I was very worried,” she added.

“I worked until the day of the operation. The pain didn’t stop me from working, it just worried me.

“I finished work that Friday and haven’t come back since.”

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The surgery went smoothly, but three weeks after the surgery, Donna said she developed “ridiculous” pain in her neck.

As the pain got “worse” and “worse,” she went back to another appointment at the Walton Center, where the mother claims she was told the pain needed to calm down.

“It got to a point where I couldn’t take the pain I was in,” she said.

“They thought I might get an infection, so I was put on antibiotics for months. It wasn’t a good time. I felt very bad and lost a lot of weight.

“I wasn’t getting better and the pain was getting worse.

“I took a ridiculous amount of painkillers. I just got to a point where I thought what’s the point of all this.”

Donna with her husband Neil

Donna said she was discharged from the Walton Center and referred to a private doctor, who told her she needed to have another operation.

Since the original surgery in 2013, the mother had to undergo two more surgeries in 2016 and 2019.

“After the last surgery I was actually in a good position because I was getting IV fluids every 12 weeks for the pain,” she said.

“I hadn’t taken morphine in months and all my meds were gone.

“Then unfortunately Covid came along and I had to miss a lot of them. I had gone over 12 months without an IV because of Covid.

“If you don’t get those injections every three months, you have to start the process all over again, so it was very difficult.”

Donna has now been able to resume three months of IVs which she hopes will bring the pain back under control.

But two neurological experts agreed in court that she will most likely suffer from daily pain for the rest of her life.

Donna Johnstone with her niece

“If I’m having a bad day, I won’t do anything,” she said.

“When I wake up and think I’m having a good day, I do a few things, but the day after, you pay for it.

“You feel guilty when you’ve worked all your life. I even feel bad that I don’t bring money into the house.

“It only demeans you and robs you of your dignity.”

Jodie Miller, a specialist medical negligence attorney at law firm JMW, represented Donna throughout her court case against the Walton Center.

She said: “Donna is a very strong woman but her strength was tested to the limit by this case.

“Despite her poor physical health, she did not fight her battle for herself but for the other patients she is trying to protect.”

The Walton Center NHS Foundation Trust told the Manchester Evening News they had nothing further to add but confirmed the surgeon in question is still working at the hospital.

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