‘Surgical catastrophe’ saw woman die after losing 17 litres of blood on operating table

A 76-year-old woman died in a 'surgical catastrophe' after she lost 17 litres of blood on the operating table, a court heard.

Freda Fox died shortly after a cancer[1] operation at St Vincent’s University Hospital[2] in Dublin six years ago. An apology was read out in court this week as her children were given a €200,000 (£170,000) High Court settlement over her death.

The family’s counsel Doireann O’Mahony BL told the court that Mrs Fox believed she was “in the best hands” for the pancreatic surgery, reports the Irish Mirror[3]. The procedure, known as Whipple surgery, is carried out in cases of suspected cancer to extend life and give back a quality of life. It was performed by two trainee surgeons.

Counsel said there were complications in the first hour of the five-hour surgery and panic ensued. She said there was “a surgical catastrophe nobody was prepared for”, resulting in Mrs Fox losing 17 litres of blood. A bleed in a vein was rapidly identified and repaired, but Mrs Fox went into cardiac arrest. Counsel said the surgery was abandoned after four hours and Mrs Fox was transferred to ICU, where she later died.

Ms O’Mahony said the pensioner from Castlerea in Co Roscommon was the “heart, light and soul” of the family, and said she had hoped the surgery would give the pensioner a new lease of life. She added: "Tragically, she never came out of hospital".

The settlement from the hospital is without an admission of liability. In the apology read to the court, St Vincent’s University Hospital said it would like to offer sincere apologies to Mrs Fox’s family “for the events that occurred on September 1, 2017" after the surgery. The statement added that the hospital “would like to acknowledge the anxiety and distress this has caused the family.”

Shoppers race to buy skincare range that 'reduces fine lines' in just four weeks[4] The Fox family settled for a €200,000 (£170,000) High Court settlement over her death The Fox family settled for a €200,000 (£170,000) High Court settlement over her death ( Collins Photo Agency)

The case against the hospital was brought by Mrs Fox’s children Paula, Sandra, Vanessa , Natalie, Ray and Padraic over the death of their mother and also for mental distress. Speaking outside court, Paula Fox said on behalf of the family that her mother was proud to be so as fit and healthy as she was.

She stated that the family had now lost all faith in the medical system, and said: “It was just elective surgery she was told she would be fine; it was just a precaution and just go ahead and get it done. We went on holiday two weeks before that and they told her to go and have a great time because after surgery she would be out of action for a few weeks. We were preparing to take her home and mind her at home and she didn’t come home to us.”

Asked what the apology from the hospital meant to the family, Ms Fox said: “To be honest it doesn't mean anything to us. We have lost our mother."

The inquest into the death of Mrs Fox heard that the cause of death was hypovolemic shock secondary to a massive blood loss occurring during the Whipple procedure. A pathologist told the inquest into the death of Mrs Fox that she found no obvious defect in the affected blood vessel but noted Mrs Fox had undergone previous surgery and the gall bladder was removed. Noting the High Court settlement Mr Justice Paul Coffey expressed his deepest sympathy to the Fox family.


  1. ^ cancer (www.mirror.co.uk)
  2. ^ Hospital (www.mirror.co.uk)
  3. ^ Irish Mirror (www.irishmirror.ie)
  4. ^ Shoppers race to buy skincare range that 'reduces fine lines' in just four weeks (www.mirror.co.uk)