The tragic case of Riana Roman

… How red tape endangers young mother

By Jade McClune

TWO years after reporting a case of suspected medical malpractice, Riana Roman is still waiting for answers from Namibia’s Health Professions Council, while she struggles to survive the life-changing injuries she suffered after undergoing “emergency surgery” that she never consented to.

The now 30-year-old Riana went for routine uterus cleaning procedure at Swakopmund State Hospital two years ago but has been unable to eat or walk or function properly since the day a surgeon at Swakopmund reportedly mistook her intestines for a piece of umbilical cord and pulled it out before cutting most of it out.

Riana was advised to undergo the routine uterus cleaning procedure shortly after she suffered a miscarriage following a four-month pregnancy in mid-2017, but she awoke in hospital on the day in question to find that she had been operated on for several hours.

When Riana’s family asked what had happened to her as she had not consented to any surgery when she went for uterus cleaning, they were told only that there had been “a mistake”.

When her wounds were re-opened in Windhoek it was found that the surgeon in Swakopmund had cut out her intestines, leaving only some 50 centimetres. The small intestine of humans is normally about 6 metres long and the large intestine is about 1.5 metres.

Her uterus then also had to be removed as it had become infected. Doctors in Windhoek were reportedly shocked about the state of the patient, but could not obtain her medical records.

“The doctor [who performed the emergency surgery] did not even tell my family anything,” Riana told Confidente. “My family was there when I came out of surgery and I was in severe pain. I couldn’t understand why. My sister asked what happened, and the doctor said only ‘There was a mistake.’”

They were told that during the uterus cleaning, “the small intestines of the bowels came out” and that the surgeon thought it was part of the umbilical cord left behind in the uterus. The once bubbly mother of two is now unable to digest food, lie down or sit for long, and she is starved for vitamins, because her body does not absorb enough nutrition.

Since Confidente first reported the matter last month, Riana’s situation has notably deteriorated. Her fiancé Heinrich said this week that she had been unable to even walk for the past few days.

A bureaucratic nightmare

nearly two years after Riana first reported her complaint of suspected medical malpractice to the Health Professionals Council of Namibia, the HPCN says it is still waiting for Riana’s medical records from Swakopmund State Hospital.

Speaking off the record, a legal officer at HPCN said they sent a request for Riana’s records to the Ministry of Health in December 2017 (as per the procedure) but have still not received any of her medical records, without which they cannot pursue any investigation.

It can take up to three years for HPCN to obtain the necessary records, they said. There are about 11 stages in the complaint and investigation procedure. After two years, HCPN appears to be only at stage two, “requesting an explanation” from the persons involved. The HPCN has promised to respond to the questions sent to them last month.

It is understood that claims for medical malpractice expire after three years, but HPCN insists that their slowness in investigating malpractice should not stop victims from seeking a remedy before the courts.

Despite her deteriorating condition, Riana is reluctant to return to Swakopmund State Hospital. Her fiancé Heinrich said that after the incident in November 2017, they were sent from pillar to post whenever they sought help as medical staff at the hospital sought to avoid dealing with the consequences or being implicated in the alleged medical malpractice.

Riana’s life now hangs by a thin thread and it is hard for her to access private medical care. Since the surgery, she is dependent on a disability grant and the support of family. Readers who may want to assist by donating towards the cost of getting specialist medical care for Riana Roman can send donations via mobile payment directly to her phone 0814471107 or by using her Nampost account 911677699244.