A grieving mother is still in the dark about the death of her baby following what should have been a standard operation.
Lisa Strydom lost her one-year-old daughter, Alissa Strydom, in 2016 after she underwent a Nissen laparoscopic fundoplication at Mediclinic Morningside in Johannesburg.
Initially, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) told Strydom the case would take six months to finalise. However, 36 months have passed and Strydom still has no answers.
When News24 approached the HPCSA, Priscilla Sekhonyana, Communications Manager for the HPSCA, said it could take up to 18 months to complete.
"The HPCSA turnaround time for finalisation of complaints is 18 months. The HPCSA acknowledges that it has exceeded the turnaround time, this is due to the incompleteness of information when the matter first served prelim."
A simple surgery gone wrong
Alissa was born with a condition that caused acid reflux and had to undergo Nissen laparoscopic fundoplication surgery - a surgery which the performing doctor, Dr PG Beale, said was a standard procedure.
The surgery was supposed to take about an hour and a half but it took more than three hours.
When he was done, Strydom said Dr Beale mentioned that were some complications but everything was fine.
"He told me that he had cut a vein and [Alissa had] lost quite a lot of blood. He said he dropped a needle but managed to stop the bleeding and pick up the needle. He said that she is stable and in recovery and we're just waiting for her to wake up."
When Alissa did not wake up, she was moved to ICU but started to flatline. After more than an hour of trying to resuscitate her, Alissa died.
"That night I will never forget, because I told him: 'You killed my child.'... Then he disappeared," Strydom recalls.
In the post-operative report, Dr Beale said: "Ongoing bleeding was subsequently ruled out by the autopsy and an alternative unrecognised underlying problem identified."
No help from SAPS
The cause of death was subsequently referred to the South African Police Service (SAPS).
"It was very long [before we got the results]... Eventually, we had to get a lawyer to push them because we had insight that the report was released already and the investigator was keeping it quiet."
"Eventually, we managed to get it (the report) through our own route because they were just not helping us."
Strydom says she was relieved when she got the results, thinking she'd finally get closure. However, when she read it, she knew it couldn't be right.
The report said Alissa suffered from a pre-existing heart condition which caused right-sided heart failure post-surgery. Strydom said she had no knowledge of this even though Alissa saw other doctors for similar issues before.
Fed up, Strydom saw no other option but to lodge a complaint with the HPCSA in 2016. They told her it would take six months to complete the investigation.
Over the next three years, Strydom would hear very little from the HPCSA, only that her matter was being attended to. Desperate, she resorted to pleading with them.
"Please can you help me, I really need your help. I cannot continue like this. Please, please help me," she begged in an email to them.
Some months later, Strydom thought, again, she would finally have closure when the HPCSA sent her a cause of death. The committee said they had investigated allegations that Dr Beale "allegedly performed an incorrect operation on the complainant's child."
It found that Dr Beale acted unprofessionally and subsequently fined him R80 000 for "operating on the wrong side [and] inadequate informed consent".
On closer inspection, however, Strydom found that the report had a different person's name on it - a Mr Kruger. The HPCSA had sent the report to the wrong person.
Sekhonyana said: "The resolution document relating to a complaint by Mrs. Straydom (sic) was erroneously filed in a file relating to the complaint by Mr. Kruger, and the resolution document relating to a complaint by Mr. Kruger was erroneously filed in a file relating to a complaint by Mrs. Straydom (sic)."
"This was an honest mistake which has since been corrected. Mrs. Straydom [sic], Mr. Kruger, and Prof. Beale were all informed about this honest mistake and our humble apologies were extended to them accordingly."
Apologies to Strydom were again followed by months of unanswered emails.
In 2019, after years of unsuccessful follow-ups by Strydom, she was told in a letter from the HPCSA that her matter was heard four months back by the Third Medical Committee of Preliminary Inquiry - a review committee for all complaints to the HPCSA. However, it was deferred for more information.
Sekhonyana added that "the matter is ready to serve in the next committee meeting of 30 & 31 May 2019".
While Sekhonyana said Strydom should get answers in coming weeks, she is still in the dark about what happened to her child and is not feeling optimistic about getting answers.
"Since the very first day I started dealing with the HPCSA they never responded as promised. I always had to beg and plead for answers," she said.
"I just want to know what happened to my baby girl," she said.