Tamil Nadu: Family accuses Chennai government hospital of amputating toddler’s arm due to medical negligence

A panel has been established to conduct an inquiry and TN Health Minister Ma Subramanian assures action if the hospital is found negligent.

BySumit Jha

Published Jul 03, 2023 | 8:37 PM Updated Jul 03, 2023 | 8:37 PM

Chennai hospital amputation: While the doctors at the government hospital deny the claims, the family is certain that this is a case of medical negligence. (Creative Commons)

In a case of alleged medical negligence at Chennai’s Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH), the family of a 18-month-old infant has accused doctors and nurses of amputating their child’s right arm while undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Taking note of the gravity of the situation and the serious accusations levelled against the medical professionals involved, Health Minister Ma Subramanian assured the family that an investigation would be carried out. A panel was subsequently established to conduct an inquiry and its findings are expected to be submitted in a few days.

Related: DGP asks police not to arrest doctors in medical negligence cases

Case history

The incident occurred during the last week of June when the family from Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu admitted their child to the hospital, following concerns that the “VP shunt” placed in him was not working properly and the resultant possibility of a brain bleed.

To give context, the child was born prematurely at 32 weeks and suffered from hydrocephalus (excessive cerebrospinal fluid collection in the brain), resulting in enlargement of the brain.

In March 2022, he underwent ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunting, a surgical procedure to drain the excess fluid and prevent further fluid build-up.

“The baby in question was born prematurely and experienced complications typical for a preterm baby. One of the complications was intraventricular haemorrhage (IVH), which resulted in the formation of a clot. This clot affected blood circulation in the brain and led to hydrocephalus, causing the enlargement of the brain,” the Dean of RGGGH Dr Theranirajan told South First.

“When the child came here, in March 2022, a VP shunt procedure was performed to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid. That time also the baby went into cardiorespiratory arrest, although he was revived and, subsequently, was admitted in the ICU for 30 days. After that, the baby went home,” he added.

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The incident in question

Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. (Wikimedia Commons)

Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital. (Wikimedia Commons)

On 25 June this year, the toddler was urgently brought to the government hospital with severe hydrocephalus, resulting from another intraventricular haemorrhage as his VP shunt had dislodged. In an effort to address the problem, the surgical team removed the previous VP shunt tube and replaced it with a new one.

Following the second shunt procedure, the baby was initially held in the post-operative ward and, later, shifted to the pediatric critical ward.

On 29 June, the child’s mother noticed alarming changes in her child’s right arm, with the fingertips turning black, indicating acute thrombosis caused by a clot blocking the blood flow.

The nursing staff and doctors were alerted to the situation and a pulse was initially detected. However, the discoloration progressed, prompting the involvement of a vascular surgeon. The surgeon identified an obstruction and requested a doppler study, which allegedly confirmed artery blockage.

“To save the baby’s life, he was immediately transferred to a pediatric hospital (Institute of Child Health). A high-level committee was subsequently formed to investigate the incident and, upon evaluation, it was determined that the child’s limb had to be amputated the following day to prevent further deterioration and potential life-threatening consequences due to gangrene,” said Dr Theranirajan.

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Family demands accountability

However, contrary to the Dean’s retelling of events, the family suspected that the deteriorating condition of the child’s right upper limb may have been caused by an incorrect placement of the IV drip.

“The IV drip was not properly inserted into the veins, leading to arm swelling and discoloration. When we approached the nurses after two days, they dismissed it as a common occurrence without any complications. Then, the doctor visited the patient at 10 pm and confirmed that the arm had become infected,” explained a relative of the child.

The exact cause can be confirmed only after the inquiry report has been submitted.

Demanding accountability for the alleged medical negligence, the child’s family members have called for government intervention. They have also expressed concern over the lack of doctors on duty, especially during the fourth day of the child’s treatment, and the indifference displayed by the nurses when complaints and concerns were raised.

Also Read: Woman requiring C-section forced out of labour ward 

Hospital denies allegation

“The prematurity of the child is considered as a contributing factor to the complications experienced. Weighing only 1.5 kilograms at birth, the toddler continued to face challenges, including malnutrition and delayed developmental milestones. Despite being 18 months now, the child’s weight remains at 5 kg and he has not achieved the developmental milestones expected for his age, such as walking or speaking. These issues are primarily attributed to the child’s prematurity,” explained Dr Theranirajan.

He added that a committee has been formed to investigate the incident and if any delays in decision-making are identified, the government and the press will be promptly notified.

Addressing the media, Health Minister Ma Subramanian stated, “The child’s birth, occurring at 32 weeks of pregnancy, was accompanied by numerous complications. However, we have initiated an inquiry to investigate whether the administration of the intravenous (IV) treatment was conducted improperly.

“Dr Theranirajan, the hospital’s Dean, has personally met with the parents to explain the complications and we are committed to determining the underlying cause. While it is possible that this is a case of medical negligence, it is important to note that no nurse would intentionally cause harm to any patient.

“However, if negligence is proved, the hospital administration will bear full responsibility and be held accountable for their actions.”