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Questions over heart surgery death of St Minver farmer David Wills, 80

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: May 24, 2013

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AN AGGRIEVED family is demanding answers to why their father died after undergoing low-risk heart surgery.

The son and daughters of St Minver farmer Thomas Anthony Wills, known as David, say they were told there would be a 5 per cent chance of their father not surviving the operation, yet he never recovered from surgery after weeks spent on a ventilator.

They say cardiac surgeons should have picked up that Mr Wills, an asthmatic, had suffered from long-term breathing problems caused by a lung condition, and say he was too unwell after the operation to be transferred from Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro where he died in March of last year.

His son Anthony alleged his father was transferred simply to free-up bed space. Nurses at Derriford told the family their father was not fit enough to undergo the operation, they claim.

Last week, they managed to halt an inquest into Mr Wills' death after Cornwall Coroner Dr Emma Carlyon agreed evidence should be heard from the cardiac surgeon who carried out the operation, and others at the Plymouth hospital involved in their father's care.

Mr Wills, 80, was well-known within the Cornish farming community. He was a member of St Minver Highland Parish Council for 43 years and its chairman for 25 years.

The inquest was told he had suffered from respiratory problem for many years and, just prior to receiving coronary artery bypass surgery, was very short of breath. An autopsy showed he had a damaged and enlarged heart.

Pathologist Robert Marshall told the inquest: "There did not appear to be any problem with the operation, but Mr Wills' heart was not able to tolerate the operation, and I would say he died from natural causes, rather than from the operation."

Royal Cornwall Hospital consultant Dr Jonathan Paddle said that after Mr Wills was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit he continued having difficulty breathing and could not be "weaned off'' his ventilator. When it was obvious he would not survive, he was put on a palliative care pathway.

His son Anthony Wills told the inquest he felt the ambulance trip from Plymouth to Truro was a major factor in his father's death.

"He was not up to being transferred from Derriford. All (the hospital) wanted to do was kick him out because they wanted the room. The decision to chuck him out was for the benefit of Derriford, not my dad.

"He should never have been moved and Dad was killed by that wrong decision.

"If he had stayed at Derriford for another week, he would still be alive today."

Mr Wills' daughter, Jane Hodges, said: "We were all told, including Dad, that there was just a 4 or 5 per cent chance of him not surviving the operation, but we feel he should never have had it in the first place.

"The consultant surgeon said dad was a very healthy man, but the team in the intensive care unit were very worried about him, and said they had never seen a man in surgery with such a bad chest."

Dr Carlyon adjourned the inquest to call people involved in Mr Wills' care at Derriford to give evidence.

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