Janelle 'scarred for life' after needless surgery

Janelle Trigg. Picture: GRET TOTMAN
Janelle Trigg. Picture: GRET TOTMAN

A Shellharbour woman says she has been "scarred for life" after treatment for a skin complaint by a doctor at Wollongong Skin Cancer Clinic.

Three years after her initial consultation, Janelle Trigg said she had undergone two operations and spent thousands of dollars to reduce the scarring caused by treatment for a tiny white spot of skin on her nose.

The 54-year-old mother of four said Dr Jeremy Reader took a biopsy of the patch for further investigation on July 5, 2011.

"If it had been cancer, I wouldn't have minded. If it was on my back or anywhere else, I wouldn't have minded but it's right in the middle of my nose."

A week later, she received a call from an assistant at the Crown Central clinic, who informed her she had cancer. She didn't.

"I had a tiny white patch of dry skin on the right side of my nose, you could hardly notice it but I wasn't working at the time so I thought I'd go and get it checked," she said. "After the biopsy, I got the call back telling me I had cancer - I was shocked. I hurried back quite upset but then the doctor told me that it wasn't cancer, it was pre-cancerous."

Ms Trigg said subsequent procedures by Dr Reader - which were aired before Parliament by Kiama MP Gareth Ward last month - caused further and lasting damage.

In a Private Member's statement on June 19, Mr Ward said he felt he had to "tell the story of one of my constituents who deserves to have her story told". He said: "Janelle Trigg is a perfectly normal, hardworking woman whose experience with the health system is anything but ordinary."

Mr Ward told Parliament that when Ms Trigg returned to the clinic after the biopsy, Dr Reader applied an ice gun, which caused bleeding and ultimately a "ditch" on the bridge of her nose.

"The doctor said that the only way to get rid of the ditch would be to stitch it. He asked Janelle to lie on the table, he pulled Janelle's nose together and he applied a stitch," he said.

"After reflecting on his work, the doctor advised Janelle that he was not happy with the presentation. He removed the stitch and applied another. The doctor put a Band-Aid on her nose and told her to return to the clinic in a week to have the stitch removed."

Ms Trigg consulted her own GP the next day due to pain and was prescribed antibiotics for an infection. She then returned to the Wollongong clinic one week later.

"When the doctor took the stitch out, large holes, which had been caused by the infection, were discovered," Mr Ward said.

Ms Trigg was referred to a plastic surgeon who operated on her nose in September 2012.

"As a result of this operation, Janelle had 10 stitches in her nose, which exacerbated the holes and the ditch in her nose," he said.

Mr Ward said Ms Trigg had since consulted dermatologist Dr Edmund Lobel who advised her she would require ongoing cosmetic surgery and that ongoing management would be required to reduce the visual impact of the scar.

"Dr Lobel does not disagree with the step undertaken by Dr Reader in carrying out the biopsy procedure," Mr Ward told Parliament.

" ... Dr Lobel gives the opinion that the post-cryotherapy treatment, being the stitching of Janelle's nose, was not appropriate treatment. Dr Lobel noted that the surgical revision of the scar may have been appropriate but that the decision to do so is not within the expertise of a general practitioner and Janelle should have been referred to a plastic surgeon for opinion and treatment at the time."

Mr Ward said that Ms Trigg had complained to the Health Care Complaints Commission about the procedures by Dr Reader and the plastic surgeon, but no action was taken.

"Whilst Janelle has received legal advice that she may have a small claim in negligence, changes by the Carr government to the Civil Liabilities Act means that this claim would be a challenge," he said. "I raise this matter in Parliament ... to give a voice to a person who needs it. Janelle does not have the means to fund an expensive legal challenge, but what is clear from Dr Lobel's opinion is that a general practitioner may well be conducting surgery he is not qualified to do.

"I have to ask the question: Why is the Health Care Complaints Commission allowing this to continue? Why is someone allowed to practise at a skin cancer clinic if they do not have the sufficient skills to undertake this practice?"

In April this year, Ms Trigg had more plastic surgery. She is happier with the result, yet has to wear a latex Band-Aid for 12 hours a day for another six months.

"I will then need ongoing treatment to get rid of the marks on my nose - basically I'm scarred for life," she said. "If it had been cancer, I wouldn't have minded. If it was on my back or anywhere else, I wouldn't have minded but it's right in the middle of my nose."

The Illawarra Mercury has contacted the Wollongong Skin Cancer Clinic and Dr Reader for comment but has received no response. An HCCC spokeswoman said the commission did not comment on individual complaints for privacy reasons.


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