NHS documentary shows critically-ill man, 74, rushed in for surgery without saying bye to his family

A hard-hitting NHS documentary showed a critically-ill man with barely ten minutes to live rushed in for surgery without saying goodbye to his family.

David, 74, was on the brink of death due to a burst aneurysm in his stomach when he was rushed to The Royal Hospital in Liverpool.

The condition, which mainly affects men over 65, often shows no symptoms until it is too late, causing catastrophic internal bleeding.

There was no time to spare for the father-of-three, and his family were barred from seeing him before he went under the knife. 

To add to the chaos, 11 of the 12 operating theatres at The Royal were shut for the day because a major merging operation was underway with another hospital in the city.

David, whose second name has not been revealed, was one of the very few squeezed into the busy schedule because his survival odds were so low.

After making it through the procedure, doctors warned David his condition was likely a result of smoking cigarettes – which he admitted made him feel ‘stupid’. 

The NHS says that eight in every 10 people who have a burst abdominal aortic aneurysm either die before arriving at hospital or during surgery.

Free screening is offered to men when they turn 65. But one in five men fail to go.

A hard-hitting NHS documentary airing tonight shows how a critically-ill man with barely ten minutes to live rushed in for surgery without saying goodbye to his family. David, 74, (pictured) was on the brink of death due to a burst aneurysm in his stomach

A hard-hitting NHS documentary airing tonight shows how a critically-ill man with barely ten minutes to live rushed in for surgery without saying goodbye to his family. David, 74, (pictured) was on the brink of death due to a burst aneurysm in his stomach

A hard-hitting NHS documentary airing tonight shows how a critically-ill man with barely ten minutes to live rushed in for surgery without saying goodbye to his family. David, 74, (pictured) was on the brink of death due to a burst aneurysm in his stomach

There was no time to spare for David's family to see him before he was given anaesthesia. He went under the knife in emergency circumstances (pictured)

There was no time to spare for David's family to see him before he was given anaesthesia. He went under the knife in emergency circumstances (pictured)

There was no time to spare for David’s family to see him before he was given anaesthesia. He went under the knife in emergency circumstances (pictured)

To add to the chaos, 11 of the 12 operating theatres at The Royal were shut for the day because a major merging operation was underway with another hospital in the city

To add to the chaos, 11 of the 12 operating theatres at The Royal were shut for the day because a major merging operation was underway with another hospital in the city

To add to the chaos, 11 of the 12 operating theatres at The Royal were shut for the day because a major merging operation was underway with another hospital in the city

Last night’s episode was the first of the fifth series of BBC Two’s Hospital, telling the emotional stories of NHS patients. 

The award-winning programme follows day-to day-life of six NHS Trusts across Liverpool, with a catchment area covering more than 2.5million people. 

Two hospitals are being merged, involving equipment being transferred from The Royal Liverpool five miles across the city to Aintree University Hospital. 

The big moving day had been planned for six months, and had never been done before.

It came at a time when both hospitals were at full capacity during the winter months. A&E was over-flowing and emergencies were still arriving needing life-saving surgery. 

As part of the moving strategy, operating theatres at The Royal were closed for 24 hours, affecting around 40-50 patients that day. 

One theatre stayed open for urgent operations – which is where David arrived with just a 50/50 chance of survival.

David, a cab driver, had been suffering with abdominal pains – a sign of an enlarging or bursting abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

An AAA is a bulge in the main blood vessel, called the aorta, that runs from the heart, through the chest and to the stomach. 

It grows slowly and if not spotted early on, can be fatal.  Often likened by doctors to ‘a blowout in a car tyre’, it causes lethal internal bleeding within minutes.   

As David is wheeled into surgery, he is told there is no time to waste. Bringing family members in would only add to the chaos.

As David is wheeled into surgery, he is told there is no time to waste (pictured). Bringing family members in would only add to the chaos, and he is given anaesthesia

As David is wheeled into surgery, he is told there is no time to waste (pictured). Bringing family members in would only add to the chaos, and he is given anaesthesia

As David is wheeled into surgery, he is told there is no time to waste (pictured). Bringing family members in would only add to the chaos, and he is given anaesthesia 

David said: 'They said if I had come in 25 minutes later I probably wouldn't have made it'

David said: 'They said if I had come in 25 minutes later I probably wouldn't have made it'

David said: ‘They said if I had come in 25 minutes later I probably wouldn’t have made it’

WHO IS AT RISK OF AN AAA? 

People at a higher risk of getting an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) include:

  • Men aged 65 or over – AAAs are up to six times more common in men than women, and the risk of getting one goes up as you get older
  • People who smoke – if you smoke or used to smoke, you’re up to 15 times more likely to get an AAA
  • People with high blood pressure – high blood pressure can double your risk of getting an AAA
  • People with a parent, sibling or child with an AAA – you’re about four times more likely to get an AAA if a close relative has had one

Source: NHS 

Francesco Torella, the consultant vascular surgeon, began surgery immediately. He clamped the artery, cutting blood supply to the lower body.

Then he repaired the anuerysm, removing a large blood clot.

After the surgery, David said: ‘I’ve never been to hospital since I was six. Then I’m going into a major trauma unit not knowing what’s happening to me.

‘The anaesthetist, Maria, said, “don’t worry, we’ll get this done”.

‘The next thing, I come to with all sorts of tubes down my throat and my family around me crying.

‘They [the doctors] said if I had come in 25 minutes later I probably wouldn’t have made it.’

David was told smoking was likely the cause of his AAA – the habit raises the risk by 15 times, according to the NHS.

David said: ‘When I realise what I’d gone through, it didn’t scare me, it terrified me.

‘You look at your family and realise what you’ve done to them through your stupidity, through your lifestyle.’

AAAs are up to six times more common in men than women, and the risk of getting one goes up as you get older. 

In England, screening for AAAs is offered to men during the year they turn 65. But thousands don’t go. 

Some 81 per cent of men invited for the screening were tested in the year 2018/2019, according to Public Health England. That means one in five fail to turn up.

BBC’s Hospital also followed one of the sickest patients at The Royal on their moving day; Blessing, a mother-of-one.

The 27-year-old is ill with the chronic autoimmune condition lupus. It causes inflammation and damage to organs, and Blessing has kidney failure.

She’s on immunosuppressants to treat lupus, making her immune system weaker.

But she developed a knee infection, which her body was too weak to fight. She was feared to be on the brink of sepsis, when the body’s immune system attacks it’s own tissue in response to an infection.

Dr Anijeet, the consultant nephrologist, said: ‘Blessing’s infection of the knee could potentially cause sepsis affecting all organs. The potential risk is the patient will die.’

One of the sickest patients at The Royal on their moving day was Blessing, a mother-of-one

One of the sickest patients at The Royal on their moving day was Blessing, a mother-of-one

One of the sickest patients at The Royal on their moving day was Blessing, a mother-of-one

Blessing is feared to be on the brink of sepsis, when the body's immune system attacks it's own tissue in response to an infection. She needed urgent surgery

Blessing is feared to be on the brink of sepsis, when the body's immune system attacks it's own tissue in response to an infection. She needed urgent surgery

Blessing is feared to be on the brink of sepsis, when the body’s immune system attacks it’s own tissue in response to an infection. She needed urgent surgery

Queen, Blessing's mother, said: 'It's so hard for a mother when your child is in pain and you can't help'

Queen, Blessing's mother, said: 'It's so hard for a mother when your child is in pain and you can't help'

Queen, Blessing’s mother, said: ‘It’s so hard for a mother when your child is in pain and you can’t help’

Blessing needed urgent keyhole surgery to wash away the infection in her knee. But all the necessary equipment was five miles away at Aintree.

She was too sick to be moved across Liverpool, so surgeons made the decision to operate without state-of-the-art equipment.

Instead, they used traditional syringes and pumped six litres of saline into her knee. They operated ‘blind’ because they had no arthroscope – a tool with a camera on the end which would be inserted into the knee.

Queen, Blessing’s mother, said: ‘If I cry, it won’t resolve the problem. So I try to stay storng, even though in my head I am melting away.

‘You have the questions;’ “why her? Why couldn’t it be me?” She’s so good, supportive and hard working.’

The operation was a success. But Blessing suffered fluid on the lungs and her lupus flared up as a result. 

Her heart is now under immense strain from the inflammation caused by her lupus. 

Queen said: ‘It’s so hard for a mother when your child is in pain and you can’t help.’ 

Hospital is next on BBC Two Thursday February 20, at 9pm.  

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