Hospital allegedly turned Christchurch woman away more than a dozen times before identifying she needed stents

A woman says Christchurch Hospital has failed its duty of care after her mother, who has a history of heart attacks, visited more than a dozen times with chest pains before it was identified she needed three stents.

Jessica Coughlan says alleged repeated failures to detect how serious her mother's condition was could've resulted in her death, just as it had with her grandfather 18 years ago.

But Canterbury DHB says while cardiac health issues can be "incredibly distressing" for patients, it's a complex task to decide whether someone needs a stent.

Hayley Coughlan, 55, first experienced cardiac issues last October. After a few days of a sore chest, she suffered two heart attacks in a matter of days - one of which was major and nearly ended her life - while visiting her dying mother in Gore.

During this time she was flown to Dunedin Hospital, where it was identified she had a blocked artery that required a stent. The blockage had been identified as the source of her pain.

Jessica Coughlan (left) with her mother Hayley.
Jessica Coughlan (left) with her mother Hayley. Photo credit: Supplied

Tragically, Hayley's mother died while she was down there, so she and Jessica, 34, stayed in Southland for a few weeks before returning to Christchurch.

But the chest pains persisted when they got home - and gradually got worse. This time, they were accompanied by shortness of breath, prompting a series of anxious visits to Christchurch Hospital.

"Since November, she has been in and out of Christchurch Hospital a good 15, 16, 17 times with chest pain," Jessica told Newshub.

"Each time she goes in, they take blood tests and they come back and go 'oh no, your TnI (Troponin) level is low, so you're not having a heart attack - go home and take Panadol'."

But each time the pain got worse, so back she went.

Hayley Coughlan in hospital.
Hayley Coughlan in hospital. Photo credit: Supplied

"She's had outpatient appointments with cardiologists and psychiatrists and all the ones that you end up having to see when you have a heart attack, and they say things like, 'your heart's as healthy as it was prior'.

"But to us, that's just been a load of rubbish."

'It was pure luck'

This was proven, Jessica says, when on Tuesday, April 27, her mother went into hospital and got a different specialist.

This doctor, who'd seen she'd been into hospital many times before, carried out an angiogram that revealed three arteries had narrowed significantly. As a result, she was told to stay in hospital and get three further stents done.

Jessica says if it wasn't for getting someone new, her mother "wouldn't be here right now".

"It was pure luck she got a different person."

Hayley, Jessica and Jessica's children.
Hayley, Jessica and Jessica's children. Photo credit: Supplied

By this time the family had learned Hayley had been suffering what are known as 'silent' heart attacks, which don't have any real warning signs. But Jessica says while Hayley and others had been communicating this to hospital staff, it had no effect on their diagnostics.

"It's sort of like they just brush it off - they don't listen, they don't explain anything, they don't take anything seriously," she told Newshub.

"I said to [the specialist], 'So what are you going to do? Are you actually going to do something? Are you going to investigate? Because this here isn't one of your simple cases of a heart attack'.

"The doctor just said, 'well, there's going to be no more further investigations - we've done three stents, so basically that's the end of it'."

While Hayley is now recovering and feeling much better after the stents, Jessica says she's "freaking out" future blockages may not be treated with the seriousness they deserve.

The concern is particularly potent as Jessica's grandfather passed away 18 years ago from a heart attack, having been sent away from hospital.

"I don't want the same result happening to my mother because they're not listening," she said.

"It's not really right for a hospital to turn you away so many times before deciding they'll look at it more, and it's not okay for them to not listen. Yeah, you guys are the professionals - but at the end of the day, you don't know the person's body."

Deciding on a stent 'quite complex', says DHB

Prior to getting three stents done, Hayley had two partial artery blockages - one 60 percent and the other 70 percent - and was told not to worry about them.

But after getting the stents done, Jessica says her mother was told any blockage of 70 percent now requires a stent, indicating it could've been sorted out much earlier.

But Canterbury DHB's Chief of Medicine, Dr David Smyth, told Newshub making a call on who gets a stent is more complicated than that.

"The decision on whether a stent is the appropriate treatment for a narrowed artery can be quite complex," he explained.

"[It] is also based on the clinical presentation at the time, the results of any diagnostic testing and information available from previous cardiac treatment."

Jessica, Hayley and Jessica's kids.
Jessica, Hayley and Jessica's kids. Photo credit: Supplied

While Canterbury DHB isn't able to comment on individual cases or the care provided to individuals, Dr Smyth acknowledged that cardiac-related health issues such as Hayley's can be "incredibly distressing".

However he said the DHB provided "a range of diagnostic tests and treatments" for patients presenting with cardiac conditions.

"Mild heart conditions may require monitoring and not require any active treatment, while more serious cases can be treated with medication, invasive procedures, or surgery," he said.

"The diagnostic tests and treatments provided to a patient are based on the severity and urgency of their issues and their clinical presentation.

"Initial investigations after a clinical assessment would generally include an electrocardiogram, and blood tests with appropriate follow up diagnostic tests then being determined by clinical indications and results. This may include an angiogram."

But Jessica says while the hospital has its processes, her mother's concerns should've been listened to.

She feels staff have failed their duty of care by failing to realise Hayley needed a stent earlier, and has since contacted the Health and Disability Commissioner and tried to file a complaint with Canterbury DHB.

For now, however, Jessica's just pleased her mother's still alive.

She says Hayley is back on her feet after getting her three stents, and is slowly returning to normal life - no longer hindered by pain and shortness of breath.

"There's still a long road ahead to recover, but each day that goes by is a major bonus to how things could have turned out."