News National Teenage cricketer loses thumb after ‘error’ in routine surgery

Teenage cricketer loses thumb after ‘error’ in routine surgery

Britney Thomas in hospital.
Teenager Britney Thomas lost her thumb after routine surgery went wrong. Photo: Supplied
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Britney Thomas had a life-long goal: to play professional cricket.

But the teenager’s dreams were dashed after a gruesome error during what should have been routine surgery.

Britney, from Gippsland in regional Victoria, was 17 when she fractured her thumb playing cricket in Hong Kong.

WARNING: This story contains graphic images.

She was referred to a local orthopaedic surgeon at Latrobe Regional Hospital, who operated with his registrar to fix the thumb and set it in plaster.

The pain started that night and by five days later, Britney told Four Corners, she was in agony.

“Literally the worst pain I reckon I’ve ever been through,” Britney said.

She went to her local GP clinic and when staff took the plaster off her thumb, Britney and her mother, Leanne Keating, couldn’t believe what they saw.

The tourniquet used to cut off blood supply to her thumb during the surgery had been left on, underneath the plaster.

It was very dark, looked very dead — the skin was all yucky,” Ms Keating said.

“I was actually, yes, mortified. It was horrible.”

A Four Corners investigation has revealed shocking cases of systemic failure in regional hospitals around the country that have led to injury and death.

Britney’s story, like the case of Alex Braes who died after having an infected toenail, highlight the devastating consequences when resources are stretched and staff are under constant pressure.

Tom Ballantyne, Britney’s solicitor from Maurice Blackburn, said it was a basic error.

“If you leave (a tourniquet) on and continue to restrict the blood flow to the thumb, it will die,” he said.

“It’s really Medicine 101 — it’s unacceptable and pretty hard to understand how that happened.”

After the tourniquet was discovered, Britney was taken into Latrobe Regional Hospital’s emergency department.

And they were like, ‘oh, you’re probably going to lose your thumb’,” Britney said.

“I was just like, ‘what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my cricket?'”

The battle to try to save Britney’s thumb was long and grisly.

Britney Thomas had her thumb stitched to her groin.
Britney had her thumb stitched to her groin for six weeks.

First, she had leeches applied to it to try to get the blood flow going, then she had her thumb stitched to her groin for six weeks to try to get the nerves and arteries working once more.

But none of that could save her thumb.

Britney’s thumb was amputated and replaced with her big toe.

A new big toe was created with hip bone.

She now can’t bend either the thumb or the toe at the joint.

“People ask me, ‘Oh why does your thumb look so weird?'” Britney said.

“And I’m like, ‘Because it’s not my thumb, it’s my toe.”

She missed so much school, she eventually dropped out.

Four Corners followed Britney to her local cricket nets for her first time picking up a bat since the surgery and she struggled to grip her new thumb around the bat.

“It devastates me because I don’t have anything else that I want to do,” she said.

Latrobe Regional Hospital chief executive Peter Craighead is apologetic.

“I felt sick in the stomach,” Mr Craighead said.

A big toe created with hip bone.
Britney Thomas’s new big toe was created with hip bone. Photo: Supplied

“It’s very devastating … We thought we had robust procedures and policies in place to ensure that we had a very safe environment.”

The hospital had surgery checklists in place, requiring staff to tick off that each part of the procedure had been done effectively.

“They made an error,” Mr Craighead said.

“And … they wrote that it was taken off and it wasn’t taken off.

“The best thing we could make sure is that what happened to Britney didn’t happen again.”

Mr Craighead said it had been “gut-wrenching” for many staff.

“We weren’t the victims, but we were part of the problem,” he said.

“Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the family.”