MOUNT Coolum woman, Jennifer Hill, has a long recovery ahead after the Guillain-Barre Syndrome she was suffering was misdiagnosed by Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
MOUNT Coolum woman, Jennifer Hill, has a long recovery ahead after the Guillain-Barre Syndrome she was suffering was misdiagnosed by Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Patrick Woods

Paralysing syndrome misdiagnosed as 'hysteria'

A WOMAN suffering a potentially fatal illness says her condition was dismissed as a form of hysteria by medical staff at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service says it has launched a review into the treatment of Mount Coolum's Jennifer Hill, who was mis-diagnosed with functional neurological disorder , but was later found by doctors at the Princess Alexandra Hospital to be potentially lethal Guillain-Barre syndrome.

While the doctors at the PA saved Ms Hill, she now faced up to two year's rehabilitation and is expected to regain between 50 per cent and 95 per cent of her former health.

She was now recovering at her Mount Coolum home after a combined 19 days in Princess Alexandria and Noosa Private hospitals and faced up to two years of rehabilitation.

Ms Hill said her experience at the $1.8 billion regional health hub had left her feeling isolated, traumatised and misdiagnosed.

Her general practitioner Dr Richard Heath described as despicable the Sunshine Coast University Hospital diagnosis, which he said effectively labelled Ms Hill's condition as a form of hysteria.

Functional neurological disorder was often associated with an emotional or psychological crisis and referred to weakness, movement disorder, sensory symptoms and blackouts for which there was no underlying physical cause.

Despite admission for three days from January 9 to 11 the hospital failed to recognise Ms Hill's condition as Guillain-Barre Syndrome or even consider the potential for it.

That was achieved in an hour by doctors at the PA who had immediately ordered, on her admission there, the lumbar puncture, originally requested by her GP.

Dr Piotr Swierkowski, Executive Director Medical, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service said while it could not comment on an individual patient's treatment without their consent, it apologised if Ms Hill felt her care was not optimal.

"We will review this matter thoroughly and evaluate the care this patient received with our service," Dr Swierkowski said.

Guillain-Barre is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system begins to attack the peripheral nervous system causing weakness and paralysis as the motor nerves were affected.

Abnormal sensations and pain were also cause through damage to sensory nerves.

The outcome can be almost total paralysis and weakness to chest muscles responsible for breathing.

Instead of doing the lumbar puncture requested by her doctor that would have helped identify the cause of Ms Hill's illness she was discharged to suffer for a further five days in increasing hip and back pain, limb dysfunction, constipation and paraesthesias (tingling and pricking of the skin caused by nerve damage).

Ms Hill said it was clear her treating doctor at the hospital had considered her symptoms were all in her head.

Ms Hill had initially gone to see her GP because of the pain she was experiencing in different parts of her body and the pins and needles that had slowly worked their way up from her feet to her knees.

Dr Heath directed her straight to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital where more concern was shown about a rash the admitting doctor thought was shingles than her gait and the stumbling she was experiencing.

Ms Hill said she was placed in isolation for three days in extreme pain during which time her sheets weren't changed and pain killers weren't offered because they were addictive.

"I was hanging onto the bed because I couldn't lie down (because of the pain)," she said.

"The doctor came into the room and asked what I was doing out of bed. When he said 'come here' I fell on the floor in tears. He just said 'what are you doing down there, get up'."

She said when she was eventually helped up she was asked if everything was alright at home.

"There were two other people standing there," Ms Hill said.

"I felt like I was being treated as a mental person or a drug addict. I felt intimidated and confused."

Ms Hill was given pain relief and asked if she could have a shower.

She said a physio brought her a walker because she couldn't rely on nurses getting to her to the toilet in time.

When she asked for a shower again she said towels were just thrown on her bed and she had to ask for help before any was given.

"She set me up in the bathroom then left me," Ms Hill said.

When tests showed her skin condition wasn't contagious Ms Hill said she was told she couldn't stay in the isolation room because it wasn't good for her mental health.

By that point neither she or her husband Michael White wanted anything to do with the hospital.

Ms Hill was discharged unable to walk independently to go home in agony.

Her condition further deteriorated over the following days to the point where the impact of Guillain-Barre Syndrome was affecting her breathing.

Mr White, at her GP's recommendation, made a 2am trip to Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane rather than return the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

She was to remain there for nine days receiving the plasma exchange therapy which stopped further damage to her health.

Ms Hill, now recovering at home but unable to walk for more than three minutes a day, said she was feeling stronger by the day.

The massage and beauty therapist has lost the home business she was in the process of building and can't even drive a car for the immediate future.

She said she had been told she could expect a recovery to between 50 per cent and 95 per cent of her previous health.

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