Lung patient ‘died after air leak from site of surgery’

The Royal Hospital
The Royal Hospital

A woman died following an air leak from the site of lung surgery, a coroner has said.

Margaret Sloan, 69, underwent an operation at the Royal Victoria Hospital to remove a tumour.

She had just been released from hospital when she suffered severe shortness of breath at home and suffered a heart attack in the ambulance leading to her death last year.

Belfast Coroner Joe McCrisken said: “It seems on the balance of probabilities it is likely there was some sort of leak from around the surgical site.”

Mrs Sloan, a married retired domestic assistant from Fountain Lane in Antrim, died at Antrim Area Hospital on September 7 last year.

She had been suffering bouts of chest infection linked to a cancerous growth in her lungs amid an underlying respiratory problem and after extensive assessment doctors decided to operate to try to prevent a fatal pneumonia.

Surgeon Kieran McManus said: “She agreed to proceed to the surgery fully informed that she is a high risk case.”

The operation went according to plan and there was no sign of an air leak over more than a week’s recovery in hospital.

However, shortly after she went home she became severely short of breath and was taken back to hospital in an ambulance.

She suffered a heart attack en route and was later pronounced brain dead by doctors.

Mr McManus said there could have been a number of reasons for the leaking of air from her lung including efforts to resuscitate her.

However, pathologist Dr Peter Ingram maintained the surgical cuts were the most likely cause.

“The recent surgery must be regarded as the underlying cause of her death.”

When challenged about other possible causes, he said: “I felt that a leak from the surgical site is by far the most likely.”

To test his theory he injected water down Mrs Sloan’s airways and it appeared to leak from the site of the wound.

Mr McManus said there had been no sign of a leakage in a number of X-rays taken after the surgery and the staples holding the wound closed were still intact.

The coroner found that she had died from cerebral hypoxia following a cardiac arrest.

“I am satisfied that the surgery was carried out to a very high standard.”

He said her treatment in Antrim Area Hospital was also of a high standard.