Anna's death leaves family asking why she needed surgery so soon after flight

Anna's death leaves family asking why she needed surgery so soon after flight


COPY PIC Stephen Bowditch with wife Anna and daughter Natalia. Stephen lost his wife Anna in 2014 after she developed deep vein thrombosis after breaking her leg on holiday in Hawaii and flying home on a long haul flight. She had a stroke during surgery in Australia. 17th November 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

COPY PIC Stephen Bowditch with wife Anna and daughter Natalia. Stephen lost his wife Anna in 2014 after she developed deep vein thrombosis after breaking her leg on holiday in Hawaii and flying home on a long haul flight. She had a stroke during surgery in Australia. 17th November 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

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A poolside slip set off a chain of events that would see Anna Bowditch die in a Melbourne hospital. She was just 34.

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It started with a trip to Hawaii.

Melbourne couple Anna and Steve Bowditch were singing and dancing by the swimming pool with their four-year-old daughter, when Anna slipped on a wet tile.

"There was an almighty crack," recalled Steve. "Anna didn't want to alarm our daughter Natalia, but she said she thought she had done something really bad."

Anna had, it turned out, broken her leg, but the injury set off a chain of events that would see her die in a Melbourne hospital in August 2014. She was just 34.

It is believed that, after enduring an uncomfortable long-haul journey home from Hawaii, Anna developed deep vein thrombosis - the condition that's sometimes dubbed "economy class syndrome", and which sees blood clots form in the veins of the leg.

Anna was declared brain dead at St Vincent's Hospital on August 21 following a stroke believed to be caused by a clot in her brain, following complications during surgery.

Anna's death is set to be probed by a coronial inquest next month, while members of her family are suing two of the Australian doctors involved in her care.

They will argue that Anna's orthopaedic surgeon and anaesthetist should have picked up on the risks and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis before she was operated on. The doctors declined to comment.

Lawyer Tom Ballantyne, who is representing the family, said one of the sad things about the case was that Anna had so many of the risk factors of deep vein thrombosis

"I would say that's something that is pretty well accepted by everyone involved in the case," said Mr Ballantyne, medical negligence lawyer with Maurice Blackburn.

"She was on the contraceptive pill. She had an orthopaedic trauma. She had flown and been immobile. And she was slightly overweight."

Anna with her daughter Natalia their 2014 holiday.

Anna with daughter Natalia during their 2014 holiday. Photo: Supplied

At first, the injury in Hawaii was to be little more than painful interruption to the family's holiday.

A trip to the local hospital revealed that Anna had broken her leg, just above the ankle. It was put in a cast, and for the rest of the fortnight-long holiday she did her best to join in on most of the activities, despite being confined to a wheelchair.

During a cramped, 10??-hour Jetstar flight home to Melbourne from Honolulu, Anna had to keep her leg propped up on her daughter's fold-down meal table.

On August 10, the day after she arrived back in Australia, she went to see her GP near their home and was referred to an orthopaedic surgeon who booked her in for surgery on August 16 to repair her broken leg.

Steve said he fretted that the operation was too soon after travel, but Anna, a brand manager with Peregrine Adventures, had been advised that surgery could reduce her recovery time.

"Anna and I had quite a few heated discussions in that last week where I said I just thought it was too soon, but for the good of the family she wanted to make as quick a recovery as she could," he said.

'Very tragic'

Steve first met his wife when they were studying together in 2004.

When he first laid eyes on her, he said it was a classic case of "heart skips a beat".

"She was very pretty, but I also don't think I've met anybody who was so instantly knowledgeable on things," he said.

"I think she is still the most intelligent person I know."

Steve, Natalia and Anna Bowditch, from the family's photo collection.

Steve, Natalia and Anna Bowditch, from the family's photo collection. Photo: Supplied

The last time Steve saw Anna - following what the family expected to be a short surgery on her leg - she was paralysed and could not speak.

Only one of her eyes could focus properly, the other was shooting off in different directions.

"She was desperately trying to talk to me, but I had no idea what she was trying to say. So I just told her that I loved her," Steve said.

"And that was the last time I saw her alive."

A spokeswoman for St Vincent's Private Hospital described Anna's death as "very tragic" and said St Vincent's was participating fully with the coronial inquiry.

Steve Bowditch had to tell his four-year-old daughter that her mother wasn't coming home.

Steve Bowditch had to tell his four-year-old daughter that her mother wasn't coming home. Photo: Joe Armao

Today, Steve has to carry Anna's death certificate with him when he flies overseas with Natalia, who's now seven.

He says one of the things the experts and books do not tell you about the death of a loved one is that the reminders are everywhere.

"As a man travelling with a young girl, questions get asked," Steve said.

"It means every time I get on and off a plane heading in and out of the country it gets dredged up again."

Officials will ask Steve where his daughter's mother is, he said, and when he explains that she is dead, they ask him if he can prove it.

"Yes, here's a certified copy of the death certificate," he says, as his daughter sobs.

"Are you happy now you have made my daughter cry?"

Anna was an organ donor and her family have been told that five or six people benefited from her donation.

Steve also hopes that by hearing about his wife's death, more people might become aware of the risks of deep vein thrombosis.

"Nothing is going to bring back Anna, nothing is going to bring back Natalia's mum - but if anything good could come out of something so terrible, it is that no other family would go through it."

The story Anna's death leaves family asking why she needed surgery so soon after flight first appeared on The Age.

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