Woman Allegedly Awake During Heart Surgery Has Nightmares About Operation

A woman has agreed to accept nearly $45,000 in damages after she reportedly woke up during heart surgery and was given the wrong medication.

Patricia Otty, a 77-year-old woman who lives in the U.K., said she has suffered from "dread and anxiety" following a procedure during which she was not given a large enough dose of thiopentone, a general anesthetic, according to the Daily Mirror newspaper.

Another error also allegedly occurred during the operation. Otty was administered potassium chloride instead of the painkiller fentanyl, which meant her heart temporarily stopped and surgeons had to resuscitate her.

The Daily Mirror claims to have seen legal documents that state Otty would have been "wide awake" during some of the procedure.

However, Otty was also given a sleeping pill and said she cannot explicitly remember the procedure because she was under its influence.

Nonetheless she told the newspaper she "began having nightmares" days after the operation and "was vomiting with fear ahead of one of my heart scans after the op."

The surgery was carried out to treat Otty's heart issues, including aortic stenosis—a narrowing of the aortic valve opening—and atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes an irregular heartbeat.

The Daily Mirror states that hospital staff realized Otty had mistakenly been given potassium chloride when staff found that containers of it were missing.

The paper reports that University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust admitted breaching its duty of care in 2018 and made 11 learning recommendations.

Otty was offered £7,000 ($9770) in damages but declined this and went through solicitors instead. However, she was unhappy with the legal service provided to her and eventually agreed to a £32,000 ($44,700) out-of-court settlement.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust told Newsweek: "We're truly sorry for what happened to Mrs. Otty, as nobody should go through an experience like this. That's why we fully accept liability and made the payment to Mrs. Otty.

"As an acute hospital we work hard to provide high-quality care, but recognize that this did not happen in this case. We're also determined to learn from mistakes, and have taken a number of steps to improve our operating theatre procedures so this never happens again."

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) states that anesthesia awareness—an incident in which someone becomes conscious during surgery—occurs in one or two of every 1,000 medical procedures involving general anesthesia.

ASA states patients may recall their surroundings or "an event related to the surgery" but "usually do not feel pain when experiencing anesthesia awareness."

Yet, there are reports of patients being able to feel pain during anesthesia awareness, including the case of Donna Penner, who told North Carolina news outlet WRAL she could feel "absolutely horrific" pain when she woke up during a stomach procedure in 2008. She said the experience lasted 90 minutes.

This article has been updated to include a statement from University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

Surgery tool
A stock photo shows surgeons passing a tool to one another in an operating room. Otty said she experienced "dread and anxiety" after the heart procedure. XiXinXing/Getty