Agnes Otoo cried for an entire month when her 37-year-old son Franklin Otoo passed away.
He underwent a routine operation to repair a small hole in his heart on August 17, 2010 at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. But, Otoo never ended up leaving the hospital.
During his surgery, he had been left without oxygen for 15 minutes, sustaining major brain damage. Nobody in the team of six doctors incubated him, nor attempted to administer CPR.
After being in a comma for 36 days, Otoo passed away on September 23, 2010.
Otoo’s father John Kweku Otoo remembers his son as calm, thoughtful and loved by everyone. He was fondly referred to as ‘Tolo,’ an endearing nickname, by friends and neighbours. He was the second born of five children and Agnes and John’s only son. He was a successful poultry farmer and owned a farm with over 500 chickens in his coastal hometown of Takoradi.
Otoo was diagnosed with his heart condition when he was five. But, it never seemed to bother him until his adult years when he started feeling tired and out of breath.
When his symptoms worsened Otoo’s family took him to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra and booked him an appointment on August 20th for surgery. Since Korle Bu is one of the most reputable hospitals in Ghana, the Otoos were not worried.
Suddenly, on the morning of August 17th, three days before his scheduled surgery, Otoo received a call from doctors telling him to come in to the hospital for a routine appointment. When he arrived, he was whisked off into surgery unprepared at noon that same day.
His family was as equally caught off-guard. Agnes rushed to the hospital to greet him when he woke up.
She waited until 6 p.m., but nobody came to talk to her or tell her how her son was doing. “It took four days until one of the doctors partially told me what went on,” she says. Doctors explained there had been problems during Otto’s procedure but that he would be fine. But, Otoo wouldn’t wake up.
When Otoo’s middle sister, Evelyn arrived a few days after she tracked down one of the surgeons, Dr. Entsua Mensah, and pressed him to inform her about her brother’s condition. “[The surgery] took three hours because of ‘unseen complications.’ It was supposed to take one hour and they ran out of oxygen for 15 minutes. His body lay there for 15 minutes without oxygen,” she recalls.
His heart was fine, but half his brain was dead. He couldn’t speak or open his eyes. He couldn’t raise his hands. He had to be fed through a tube. He never moved again, until he died. “When I saw my son I wept,” says John.
To make matters worse, the Otoos believed Otoo wasn’t being cared for properly post-surgery. “The doctors and nurses neglected him and didn’t dress his wounds and bathe him,” says Agnes.
Korle Bu personnel recommended they hire a private nurse to take care of him since their own staff was understaffed and overstretched.
So, Vera, Otoo’s youngest sister, a nurse working in the Eastern Region, took over her brother’s care until he passed away.
When Otoo finally died, his family was swiftly asked to cover GHC 1,500 in medical costs since heart surgery is not covered under Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme, although they were only charged for the surgery and not any aftercare. They also had to cover the costs of keeping Otoo’s body in the hospital morgue, transporting him to the funeral home and very unexpected funeral arrangements.
The hospital did not offer the Otoos any form of compensation, nor did the doctors take any responsibility for what happened to their son and brother, even though his death appeared as a result of the doctors’ mistakes.
Many people have suggested the Otoos sue the hospital and the doctors on the grounds of medical malpractice and negligence. However, the family has decided against legal action saying they don’t believe it would change anything.
“It’s not going to bring him back and why fight with the government?” says Evelyn, revealing the family has little faith in Ghana’s legal system and assume prominent public figures like doctors would always have preference put on them in court. She regrets not recording her conversations with the doctors.
Agnes and John try to find comfort in their religion and convince themselves that their son’s death is part of God’s plan, maintaining the typical Ghanaian practice of saving face and not placing blame on others.
But as John reflects on his son’s unfortunate case, he can’t help but let his true thoughts about the whole ordeal slip.
“The boy died as a result of the operation,” he says dryly. “That’s all there is to it.”
We attempted to reach representatives from the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital Cardiothoratic Centre several times to no avail. When we spoke to Dr. Lawrence Siriboe, the head surgeon involved in the case, he refused to comment.