One sneeze and I was paralysed

Debbie Thomason from Northamptonshire who was paralysed when she sneezed
Debbie Thomason from Northamptonshire who was paralysed when she sneezed
Debbie Thomason from Northamptonshire who was paralysed when she sneezed
Debbie Thomason from Northamptonshire who was paralysed when she sneezed

A devastated mother-of-two who is suing the NHS claims doctors allegedly misdiagnosed a spinal condition which left her disabled – when she sneezed.

Debbie Thomason, 35, suffered permanent damage after doctors allegedly mistook cauda equina syndrome – a serious spinal condition – for her ongoing back pain.

She suffered from sciatica – nerve problems – but in May 2011 was rushed into hospital after she collapsed in excruciating pain when she sneezed at her home in Northampton.

Doctors at Northampton General Hospital allegedly failed to detect that nerves at the base of her spine had compressed as a result of her sneeze and she had developed cauda equine syndrome.

The condition, which is caused by when the spinal canal narrows causing the nerve roots to compress below the level of the spinal cord, requires patients to undergo urgent surgery or the patient can risk becoming paralysed for life.

Medics delayed operating on Debbie’s spine for eight days and despite two further operations when doctors finally diagnosed her condition, she can now only walk a few yards and has been left virtually housebound.

She is now suing the hospital for clinical negligence, claiming her debilitating condition should have been picked up much earlier than it was.

Debbie, who has had to give up her job as a foster mum as a result of her condition, said: “I am absolutely distraught.

“My life has been completely shattered by the permanent damage to my spine, which I believe could have been prevented if I had received the care I urgently needed.

Northampton General Hospital where Debbie was being treated
Northampton General Hospital where Debbie was being treated

“I had had sciatica at the time but nothing like this. It was basically caused by a simple sneeze as I was coming out of my bathroom.

“I never dreamed it could lead to being disabled.

“I feel so angry that this has happened and that nothing can be done for me.

“By taking legal action I hope to highlight my case to the trust and help to save other people from going through what I have.

“While it is too late for me, it may not be for someone else.”

Her husband Darren, 37, has had to give up his job as a bricklayer to become a full-time foster parent and look after his and Debbie’s children Jamie, 15, and Bethany, 12.

He is also a full time carer to Debbie who cannot bathe of dress herself and needs assistance going to the toilet.

Darren said: “It is so sad what has happened. Debbie loved nothing more than taking the kids out to the park and playing games and we also really enjoyed our family holidays.

“Now we can’t even go out. She is pretty much permanently bed-ridden and in constant pain. It is so upsetting to see.

“She did have sciatica, but it was just nothing more than mild back ache. It was undoubtedly the sneeze which caused this.

“It was a powerful sneeze and she was left on her hand and knees in agony.

“But we believe there were unacceptable delays after her condition was not spotted and this has resulted in her current predicament.”

Debbie’s solicitors also claim that eventual surgery – and two further operations – was of a poor standard which has contributed to her constant pain.

Eddie Jones, clinical negligence lawyer at solicitors JMW, said: “Debbie is now disabled at the age of 35 and has gone from being an independent woman, used to spending her days caring for others, to someone who needs care herself.

“Cauda equina syndrome has devastated her life, but the tragedy is that it doesn’t have to cause such significant disability and can be treated effectively with urgent surgery.”

Northampton General Hospital said it was unable to comment due to the ongoing legal process.


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