‘I lost everything’: Amputee takes on KZN Health following operation

Deon Pillay, an amputee, has to bathe in his rented room.

Deon Pillay, an amputee, has to bathe in his rented room.

Published Jul 22, 2022


Durban: Eleven years ago, Deon Pillay had a family, a three-bedroom house and an import export business with a R12 million annual turnover. Today, he lives alone in a sparsely furnished room and struggles to take care of himself.

The 48-year-old amputee from Northdale in Pietermaritzburg, has been waiting for two months for the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal to compensate him for treatment following his claim of medical negligence.

Pillay said an alleged misdiagnosis in 2011 led to a government hospital amputating below his right knee.

In May this year, the Pietermaritzburg High Court ordered that the department pay Pillay just over R130 000 for treatment, R93 531 for occupational therapy and R38 076 for physiotherapy. Judge Piet Koen gave the department had 30 days to pay.

“But to date, I have not received a cent," said Pillay.

"My life has been turned upside down. I am barely surviving on my disability grant. I went from running a successful business to living in a small rented room. I cannot afford a caregiver."

In March 2011, Pillay relocated with his family from Pietermaritzburg to Escourt.

The father of one said in July of that year, he had the gastric flu and then experienced shortness of breath.

"The GP referred me to a cardiologist in Pietermaritzburg. I was diagnosed with mild dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. It makes the muscle walls become stretched and thin. This resulted in water retention in my chest and shortness of breath. I was prescribed medication and returned to Escourt."

About three days later, he had pain in his right ankle and went to the Estcourt Hospital.

"I did not have medical aid. Despite having money, like many people, I did not think there was a need for medical cover as I thought I would probably never need it."

He said a doctor diagnosed and treated him for a sciatic nerve problem in the leg.

“The doctor said the nerve from my spine, which runs down the back of my right leg, had caused the pain. He agreed that I should see a physiotherapist. But after five days of seeing a private physiotherapist, the pain worsened and the paramedics took me to the Estcourt Hospital on August 2(2011).

"A nurse gave me an injection for the pain and after nine hours of waiting for the doctor, I underwent an ultrasound. The doctor told me I had deep vein thrombosis. It's a blood clot that forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body, usually in the legs.

"He said I needed to be transferred to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban. I assumed it was because they had a specialised department to treat me.

“The doctor there examined my leg and said I needed to go to theatre. He said they had to cut my leg on both sides and check the muscle and tissue. If the muscle and tissue were dead, they would have to amputate my leg.

“I panicked and wanted a second opinion. The doctor said I could leave the hospital but if I dropped dead, I could not blame them. I signed the consent to go ahead with the procedure and prayed. After the surgery, part of my leg was missing.

"For several days, I was given injections for the pain. The bandages were not opened or checked. The nurses said the doctor advised that they must leave the bandaging. While there, I was told I would go back to theatre for the stump to be stitched.

"On the morning that I was supposed to go to theatre, I felt unwell and had a fever and chills and did not go to theatre. Over the next few days, I felt uncomfortable and arranged to go to a private hospital in Pietermaritzburg. I took a forced discharge.

“The surgeon there looked at my stump, then at me and he shook his head. He said I had severe sepsis and septicaemia. I was admitted and given antibiotics. A few days later, I underwent surgery again and my leg was further amputated above my knee. During my recovery over the next few months, my business nosedived.

“I ran the business and was hands-on. I drove to various borders in Africa to meet with clearing agents. I built relationships with logistic companies across the country. It would have been difficult to get someone to fill in for me."

The business closed in 2012.

"I had no income, savings, or investments. We did not have family support in Escourt so my family moved back to Pietermaritzburg. We rented a flat and I struggled to support my family. I did not want to be a burden to my wife. We got divorced and my daughter lives with her."

Pillay said in 2014, a friend told him to consider legal action.

"Later that year, I got another attorney and a summons was issued to the department for R10.8 million for medical negligence. There were no inroads into the case, so I got another attorney in 2016.

“He amended the summons to about R14m and the case started to move. In October 2018, a merit trial was expected to start in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, but the department’s legal representatives asked for a postponement. The merit trial was then set for February 2020. During the merit trial, the department's legal representative conceded liability."

Pillay was tasked with proving to the court how much in damages were owed to him.

“Various experts, including an occupational therapist, physiotherapist and an orthopaedic surgeon examined me and provided medical reports on the intensity of damages, how much treatment I would need, the duration, and the costs.

"I also provided my bank statements and income documents to an appointed forensic accountant, who then compiled a report on the loss of past income from 2011 and loss of future income."

In October 2021, his attorney did an interim payment application. It showed Pillay's loss of past and future income, past medical expenses, future medical expenses, and general damages, which amounted to over R9m.

The matter was set to be heard in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in May this year.

"On the court date, the department's legal representative said they had not received the forensic accountant's reports on my loss of past income. The judge ordered that some of the costs be paid. He also issued directives for both the department and us to supply information to the court. Once the court receives feedback on the directives then a quantum trial date will be set.

“The department has not honoured the ruling, of compensating me R130 000. My attorney has made an application for a warrant of execution in the Pietermaritzburg High Court."

Pillay said he struggled to do basic things, even to bathe.

“I cannot use the communal bathroom, as I have fallen before and there was no one around to help me. I now sit on a chair in the corner of my room, and have a bath.

"My daughter is now 19 and she cannot stay with me as the room is small. How do I provide for her as well. It is sad that the health department cannot even pay such a small amount for their own staff’s negligence," he said.

Ntokozo Maphisa, the spokesperson for the Department of Health in KZN, said: "We are concerned about this matter, and have asked for a report from our legal services unit to ascertain the cause of the alleged delay, and to see how it’s finalisation can be expedited."

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