Mother given 18 months to live after being misdiagnosed 13 times makes full recovery from cancer following UK-first operationRuth McDonagh was repeatedly turned away by doctors over the course of two years despite suffering from the classic symptoms of bowel cancer
18:20 GMT, 29 May 2012
A mother who was given 18 months to live after doctors failed to diagnose her cancer more than a dozen times has made a miracle recovery after the first operation of its kind in the UK.
Ruth McDonagh, 47, was repeatedly turned away by medics over the course of two years despite suffering from the classic symptoms of bowel cancer.
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On the mend: But Ruth McDonagh was repeatedly turned away by doctors over the course of two years despite suffering from the classic symptoms of bowel cancer
Ms McDonagh's only option was a 100,000 operation only available in the U.S. and which was certain to leave her paralysed from the waist down.
But at the eleventh hour a team of British doctors trained in the American technique agreed to carry out her surgery in a 13-hour operation never before carried out in the UK.
And to her elation, when Ms McDonagh came round from the surgery she was able to wiggle her toes – meaning doctors had, against the odds, managed to save the feeling in her legs.
Ms McDonagh, who lives in Enfield, North London, with her son Brandon, 11, said: 'I feel like I have been given a second chance at life.
'When you’re told you have cancer the first thing you think is that you are going to die. Leaving Brandon behind was all that I could think about. Who would look after him What would happen to him
'Now he tells everyone he meets that Mummy hasn’t got cancer any more, whether he knows them or not – it’s wonderful.'
BOWEL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Early bowel cancer may have no symptoms. Initial symptoms can also occur in people with less serious problems such as haemorrhoids.
However, the NHS recommends seeing your doctor if you notice the following:
Blood in your stools or bleeding from the rectumA change to normal bowel habits for a number of weeks – such as diarrhoea or constipation, abdominal pain or a lump in the stomach, unexplained weight loss.
As the disease progresses it can also cause anaemia leading to fatigue and breathlessness.
If you are worried about any symptoms you can also call the Bowel Cancer UK Support line on 0800 8403540
Ms McDonagh’s health problems began in 2008 when she noticed blood in her stools and had difficulty going to the toilet.
She went to her GP but, as her symptoms worsened, she was given varying diagnoses from doctors who claimed she had everything from IBS to pelvic inflammatory disease.
At one point, Ms McDonagh was suffering from such severe abdominal pain that she could barely walk.
But she was still told go home, have hot baths and eat different foods.
When she became so ill she could no longer eat, one doctor prescribed Ms McDonagh a herbal remedy and wrote that she was 'neurotic' in her notes.
Even when she told medics she thought she had bowel cancer her fears were laughed off and she was told she was far too young.
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Ms McDonagh after the 13-hour operation at Leeds General Hospital which was carried out by a team of British doctors trained in an American technique never before carried out in the UK
'Second chance at life': Ms McDonagh lives in Enfield, North London, with her son Brandon, 11
Ms McDonagh said: 'I didn’t care what happened to me, I just wanted to still be around for my son. I wasn’t even angry because I was more worried about Brandon to feel anything else.
'But they couldn’t find anyone in this country who was qualified to do the sacrectomy. Only about 50 operations are performed anywhere in the world each year.
'The tumour had spread so far up my tailbone that no one was prepared to do it as they had never performed one like it before. It was a very complex operation and had a lot of risks. Essentially they would be cutting away at the root of my spine.
Before the operation, well-wishers at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield paid for Ms McDonagh to take Brandon to Euro Disney, where he met singer Peter Andre
Relief: Ms McDonagh recovering after the operation that she thought would leave her paralysed
'But even though I was told it would most likely leave me paralysed, I was desperate to find someone to do it. I started trying to raise the 100,000 to go to America myself and contacted everyone I knew.'
After months of frantic fundraising, Ms McDonagh finally received the call she had been waiting for – orthopaedic surgeon Professor Peter Giannoudis and consultant neurosurgeon Dr Jake Timothy had agreed to take on her case with another surgeon at Leeds General Infirmary.
Earlier this month it emerged that a critically-acclaimed British composer has been left wheelchair bound after a hospital misdiagnosed his fractured spine.
Medical staff at the Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley failed to diagnose Andrew Downes' fractured back after the 61-year-old suffered a fall at home in October 2009.
His case is one of several high-profile blunders where medics misdiagnosed patients' conditions.
In January this year a mother sued the obstetrician who she claims misdiagnosed her pregnancy as ectopic and injected her foetus with an abortant, resulting in birth defects.
Thirty-five-year-old Rachel Schoger of Caldwell, Idaho, says she was four weeks five days pregnant with her daughter, Seraphine, when her doctor injected her foetus with chemotherapy drug methotrexate in 2006.
Two weeks later, the baby was found inside the uterus. And against all odds, Seraphine made it through term.
A survey last month revealed that two thirds of young people with cancer will visit their GP with at least one of the most common cancer symptoms – yet a third of these cases are missed by doctors, according to research.
One in four had to visit their doctor at least four times before they were taken seriously and referred to a specialist.
Lucy Parker, 17, from the Isle Of Man, was only diagnosed with a muscle tumour when her mother took her to hospital after she was turned away by her GP three times.
Of those who were at first misdiagnosed, 12 per cent were told they were attention seeking while 15 per cent were told they just had a virus.
Other misdiagnoses included telling patients they were suffering indigestion, vertigo or swine flu.
Together the three surgeons worked for 13
hours to remove Ms McDonagh’s sacrum, her bowel, her womb and to repair damage to her kidneys.
The surgery was described as being akin to a car crash in physical terms.
Ms McDonagh was also warned once more that the surgery would probably leave her without the use of the lower half of her body, but she was determined to go ahead.
She said: 'As far as I was concerned, there was no choice to make. The surgery was my only chance of survival and I had to fight for my survival.'
Before the op, kind well-wishers at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield paid for Ruth to take her son to Euro Disney for what she feared might be the last quality time she would ever spend with him.
Then, on March 12 this year, Ms McDonagh awoke from the operation.
She said: 'When I woke up from the
surgery I was completely elated. I could wiggle my toes and I could feel
my legs so I knew that meant they’d been able to save one of my nerves.
felt terrible, but I’d never been happier. The doctors explained to me
that the surgery had gone better than they had expected, that they’d
removed all the tumour and been able to spare the feeling in my legs. I
couldn’t thank them enough.'
Ms McDonagh spent the next two weeks in hospital and then returned home to Enfield where she is learning to walk again on crutches.
Doctors cannot say if the cancer will ever return but as far as she is concerned, her recovery is miraculous.
said: 'I was terminal. I was written off as dead. I can’t believe I’ve
been given another chance to go on living and being a mother to my son.
am angry at the fact it took so long to diagnose me. I think the sad
fact is that the NHS is under too much strain financially and the
doctors were reluctant to take me seriously because of my age.
'But if they had given me a blood test or a colonoscopy four years ago I would have saved them thousands.
I would say to anyone is that they need to be aware of their own bodies
and if you know something isn’t right – even if a doctor is telling you
that you are fine – get a second opinion and be persistent.
'Having said that, the surgeons that worked on me were incredible and the care I received from them was amazing.
'They have saved my life and my mobility. I can get from A to B and I still have my independence so I don’t mind if I wobble a little, I get there in the end.
'I have to take everything one day at a time and no one can tell me what the future holds but I’m so grateful that I’m still here.
'Most importantly, I’m still here for Brandon and that’s what matters.'
Ms McDonagh is raising funds and awareness for bowel cancer. Find out more at www.helpruthie.co.uk