Ethiopian Mother Rejects 13.2 Million Birr Compensation For Medical Error
“I am not interested in money,” said a tearful and distraught Halima Muzzamil Hussain, an Ethiopian national whose husband works in Makkah in the hospitality industry. “My son, Mohammed Abdul Aziz Yahya, walked into the hospital on his own feet on a February morning in 2006. He was four years old and full of life. Full of spirits and cheerful. I want my son back on his feet.”
Halima clings to her son who lies motionless in Room No. 2129 of Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah. She wept softly as she told Arab News of the pain and sadness she has had to endure for nine traumatic years. All kinds of life support equipment are attached to Mohammed. The only signs of life, however, are his breathing and his constantly blinking eyelids.
Halima and her husband have been legal residents in the Kingdom for more than 25 years. They are from Addis Ababa and they have always been based in Makkah. Mohammed is their second child. Their first is a daughter, Naeema, who is now 16.
The son was born in Makkah and had a normal childhood. When he was 4, he had a problem with breathing and his parents brought him to Jeddah for the best possible medical attention. The pediatrician did not raise any alarm. They visited him twice. On the second visit, the doctor, whose name Halima does not remember, said that Mohammed needed an adenoidectomy which is a minor operation on the nose.
“It will be a 10-minute procedure and your son will be out of the hospital in a few hours,” she recalled the doctor as saying. Mohammed did not have insurance so he was a cash patient. The doctor said the operation had to be performed by a specialist and that an appointment had to be made. The procedure was set to be performed on Feb. 9, 2006, by Dr. Mohammed Ismail Zawji, an Egyptian.
“We came from Makkah at the appointed hour in the morning of that day. Mohammed was at his chirpy best,” recalled his mother, tears rolling down her cheeks.
For Mohammed. For Halima. For Mohammed’s father. For the hospital. And everyone else.
According to the medical report, after the operation, the child was transferred from the operating room to a normal room. “In the following few hours, the child arrested and Code Blue was called. He was successfully resuscitated and transferred to an intensive care unit. He was ventilated and given intensive therapy to reduce brain edema and control seizures,” said the report, a copy of which was made available to Arab News by the mother. (In medical terminology, Code Blue is generally used to indicate that a patient requires resuscitation or is in need of immediate medical attention.)
None of this made any sense to Halima who stayed in the hospital waiting for the news of Mohammed’s recovery.
“One day passed, and then two, three, four … Days then turned into months. And months into years,” said Halima. “My son did not come back to us. He remained in bed with no life in his limbs. Only his eyes kept blinking. He went into a deep sleep and I am still waiting for him to wake up.”
The hospital, and more specifically its founder, the late Dr. Soliman Fakeeh himself, sympathized with Halima. “He assured us of all help. He regularly visited my son and always told me that my son would be all right,” she said. “He was a good man.”
Initially, she made daily trips from Makkah to Jeddah to be at her son’s side. The daily trips soon became a problem and so she rented a place in Jeddah; later the hospital provided her with accommodation in a rest house on the hospital premises. The family was financially well off but their situation began to change. The husband could not possibly leave his job in Makkah. In fact, he had to shoulder the extra financial burdens in view of the changed circumstances. However, it must be stated that the hospital did not charge them a single halala.
Three years after the botched operation and with no end in sight, Halima approached the Health Ministry. She alleges that her file had begun to gather dust when someone suggested that she approach the Ethiopian Consulate and so she did. “The consulate approached the Makkah Governorate through a good prince and it directed the matter to the Health Ministry,” Vice Consul Yalelet Getachew Ashenafi told Arab News last week. “Once the papers went from the governorate, the ministry sprang into action and the old file was dusted off.”
A commission, consisting of six eminent doctors from the best government hospitals and departments, was established to look into the case. It was headed by Dr. Mohammed Nasser Al-Sulami. “This was six years ago,” said Halima. “The commission delivered its report two months ago — on June 16, 2015, to be precise.”
According to the findings of the commission, the hospital is 100 percent accountable for the mistake. The commission’s report, a copy of which is in the possession of Arab News, ordered the hospital to pay SR2.4 million compensation for the medical error. It also fined the hospital SR100,000 for procedural lapses. The report directs that the hospital not charge the patient anything.
The report said both parties were called in and both rejected the commission’s decision. The report concluded by stating that both parties reserved the right to appeal within two months. Halima, through the consulate, has lodged an appeal.
According to Halima, the hospital has agreed to pay SR2.4 million. “But I don’t need this. What will I do with it? The hospital has set a condition that once we accept SR2.4 million, we will have to take our son out,” she said.
The Ethiopian vice consul termed the compensation inadequate. “Once Mohammed is out of the hospital, he will not be able to survive for one month with that money,” said Ashenafi. “They have already forced Halima to vacate the rest house that was provided to her by the hospital on its premises. She is on her own now. Community members chip in to help with her daily needs. The husband is doing all he can to sustain the family. Mohammed’s sister, Naeema, is in Makkah with her father. The whole family has suffered terribly.”
The mother wants the hospital to arrange medical help from abroad in order to revive her child. “They should try. There must be some way out. I have a feeling he hears me,” she said.
Medical experts that Arab News approached said unless a miracle happened, the child’s chances of recovery are remote. “Who is going to tell this to the mother?” said Hassan M. Jaber, a close friend of the family. “You and I can understand. She cannot. She wants her child back. All that can be done should be done. If outside help can be arranged, it should be. The hospital or the government should help the devastated mother.”
Like any mother for whom a child is a precious gift, Halima remains hopeful. “Allah, the Almighty, will come to my aid. My son will walk out of this hospital hale and hearty. I only pray that no mother should have to endure the kind of agony that I have experienced. Waiting nine years is too much,” she said, hiding her tears. “Too much.”
The heavy silence that ensues is suddenly broken by a beep of one of the machines attached to Mohammed.
What happened next is a very sad story. What was to be a 10-minute operation turned out to be a long nightmare.