Lives ruined as doctor leaves trail of pain

The ‘ Bega Butcher’ … Dr Graeme Reeves. ”I used to be loved beautifully” … Carolyn DeWaegeneire is comforted after this week’s hearing.

Tears tumbled down Carolyn DeWaegeneire’s cheeks as she thought of finally being able to give her mother the farewell she deserved.

DeWaegeneire said her life had stalled in the years she spent fighting for justice, after the former gynaecologist Graeme Reeves cut off her genitalia during an operation to remove a pre-cancerous growth in 2002.

After her mother’s death in May, DeWaegeneire couldn’t even travel to England to scatter her ashes.

”Until today I haven’t been able to leave my house in case the phone rings to say the appeal is going to be heard,” DeWaegeneire said after the judgment on Thursday.

”I’ve been waiting for that call all this time. Now, maybe I can go to England and take my mother’s ashes.”

The Crown appealed against the leniency of Reeves’s maximum 3½-year sentence for his treatment of DeWaegeneire and other patients, and the Court of Criminal Appeal this week handed him an extra 18 months’ jail.

Reeves successfully appealed against one charge of aggravated indecent assault against another woman, which was quashed.

DeWaegeneire isn’t the only one who has been waiting a long time for some kind of resolution.

Fresh claims were aired at a coronial inquest on Monday about Reeves’s treatment of 38-year-old Kerry Ann McAllister, who died a week after giving birth in the Hills Private Hospital almost 17 years ago.

Just 12 hours after a normal delivery on May 8, 1996, McAllister had a fever of 38 degrees.

Reeves, knowing her husband and other family members had a bug, diagnosed her with a virus and prescribed Panadol, the inquest heard.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ian Fraser, said a review of the case showed: ”With every passing hour that diagnosis became unlikely.” Over the course of three days, McAllister’s temperature reached between 39 and 40.2 degrees, but Reeves rarely examined her, Fraser said.

The inquest heard when a nurse told Reeves she was concerned about McAllister’s soaring fever, he angrily said: ”I’m well aware of her temperature. She’s got a virus.”

On the day her temperature rose to 40.3 degrees, Reeves still did not examine her, Fraser said.

”He said he did not want to enter her room in case he caught the virus she had.”

On the night of May 12, her pulse was twice the normal rate and she was in pain so intense that another doctor prescribed morphine and ordered blood tests, Fraser said.

The inquest heard when the blood tests were irregular, Reeves consulted a haematologist and transferred McAllister to Westmead Hospital, where she was immediately given antibiotics.

However, she went into cardiac arrest and died in the early hours of May 14.

Reeves, with grey hair, a beard and a handlebar moustache, left his jail cell to appear at the inquest, where he acknowledged his misdiagnosis and mistreatment of McAllister.

”It’s my responsibility. There’s no grey area. I made a mistake which cost her her life. I can’t live with it … it happened and it can’t be changed.”

McAllister’s father, Harold Bundy, was emotional and his voice cracked as he stood before Reeves and the coroner to remember his daughter.

”Every year Kerry was a very visible supporter of the SIDS red nose day. Always with her own madcap humour but, equally, always with a deep and genuine concern for children who suffered,” Bundy said.

”She would have embraced any opportunity to help others and I believe [this] is such an opportunity.”

Bundy said he was angry at the health system, which he said gave practitioners an ”unreal status of near infallibility”.

A deputy state coroner, Hugh Dillon, referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration, finding that McAllister died from septicemia caused by an undiagnosed post-partum bacterial infection.

Reeves now faces the prospect of a manslaughter charge, the most serious offence to date in the long-running case.

Dillon acknowledged McAllister’s family had been forced to wait a long time for a public hearing, because Reeves’s matters had gone before numerous commissions and courts over the years.

Reeves, 62, graduated from medicine with honours and his work in obstetrics and gynaecology had been valuable in ”helping mothers and families in crises” and he had saved lives, according to a background that was set out in the appeal judgment.

He suffered a depressive breakdown in the early 1990s and his psychiatrist spoke of a personality change at home and work.

From there came a series of complaints about Reeves’s manner and the quality of his work, some of which were upheld by the Professional Standards Committee of the NSW Medical Board in 1997.

He was ordered to stop practising obstetrics and to continue as a gynaecologist only under supervision.

But by early 2002 Reeves had asked for work at Bega Hospital and he went through an interview process, acknowledging he had conditions placed on his medical registration, but not that he was restricted from obstetrics.

In April 2002 he was appointed as the visiting medical officer obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bega and Pambula District Hospitals, but told the NSW Medical Board he would not practise obstetrics.

During his employment he undertook caesarean sections, accepted referrals from GPs asking for specialist advice and treated 36 obstetric patients, including one who had a mid-trimester induction.

It was around this time that Reeves operated on DeWaegeneire, who believed that only a small flap of skin would be removed during surgery.

She recalled that as she was lying on the operating table, Reeves leaned over, put his face close to hers and said quietly: ”I’m going to take your clitoris too.”

On Thursday, surrounded by a media pack, DeWaegeneire was visibly angry and upset about what Reeves did to her.

She said it was ”beyond comprehension” how much he had changed her life.

”I used to be loved beautifully by my beautiful French husband. What Reeves did, he took all that part of me away and it haunts me.”

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