Restaurant’s ‘hiccup cure’ leaves Qld woman in life of pain
Seven years after she was mistakenly given oven cleaner, instead of vinegar, to cure her hiccups, Amanda Merrifield's life is still a daily struggle - physically, emotionally and financially.
Caustic burns from the fluid she swallowed in a restaurant resulted in Mrs Merrifield, then a 39-year-old lawyer, having to have her oesophagus and stomach removed four years later.
At the time of her injury, the Gold Coast mother's son Jack, now nine, was only 22 months old and she was about to start a job with a new law firm.
She lost her career, her ability to have another child and has endured years of pain and more than 80 surgeries, while waiting for the restaurant's insurer to reach a compensation agreement.
"It's hell. Everything I do, every decision we make, is centred around my injury,'' Mrs Merrifield, 46, said.
"I'm on three times per day injections of a tumour medication, plus so many others, just to keep my body somewhat liveable.
"After the first two months in hospital I was on the operating table every week for months, and then every two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, trying to save my oesophagus.''
Mrs Merrifield had a feeding tube into her intestine, off and on, for four years.
"Mentally and physically, it's broken me,'' she said.
"I've been in hospital over 120 times. If I go a month without going to the emergency room or having some sort of procedure, that's good.''
Mrs Merrifield and husband Bob, 55, whose work with an American software company sometimes takes him overseas, had to pay for a carer for Jack until he started school.
She grieves for those years of not being able to pick up her young son or play with him, and not being able to try for another child.
"I was a lawyer with lots of friends, the life of the party, but now I've become a home body," Mrs Merrifield said.
"If it wasn't for my husband and son, I wouldn't have made it.''
While Queensland Health, Blue Care and private health insurer Bupa have covered some expenses, the Merrifields have struggled to pay for her high costs care and treatment.
In 2018, law firm Maurice Blackburn filed Ms Merrifield's $5 million claim against the Gold Coast restaurant where she was given a spoonful of industrial strength oven cleaner.
The restaurant's insurer has since admitted liability and paid some money to Ms Merrifield.
But she feels angry that under Queensland public liability law, the insurer is not obliged to cover more of her mounting expenses before her compensation claim settles.
"I just want to be able to pay for the care I need, without having to worry about where the money is coming from,'' Ms Merrifield says.
"My hope is to stay alive and see my son grow up and not feel like I'm a burden all the time.''
Alison Barrett, of Maurice Blackburn, said the case was awaiting a hearing, as there had not been an agreement on the amount of compensation.
"It has been an arduous and difficult process for Amanda and her emotional trauma continues,'' Ms Barrett said.