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Lawless in hospital vigil after father's cancer op goes wrong

Sunday Star Times

19 March 2006


Actress Lucy Lawless has had a tumultuous week at the hospital bedside of her father, who is critically ill after developing complications following a cancer operation. Lawless has maintained a vigil with her father, former Mt Albert mayor Frank Ryan, at Auckland City Hospital's critical care unit after he fell into a coma.

He was rushed from a general ward, where he had been recovering from a seemingly successful operation to remove cancer from his stomach, to the critical care ward.

A family member, who asked not to be identified, told the Sunday Star-Times hospital staff had admitted to the family on Thursday night that an error had been made during the operation.

He said Ryan, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer several weeks ago, had recovered amazingly well from the operation, joking that he felt well enough to go for a run in the Auckland Domain. But a day or two later he "turned yellow and started bleeding again".

The family member said it was then discovered that Ryan's stomach had perforated, the wound had not been properly stitched and had become infected, and he had contracted peritonitis - an inflammation of the stomach lining which can be fatal.

The infection had spread to Ryan's liver, kidneys and lungs, and he had fallen into a coma, requiring a tracheotomy.

The Star-Times approached Lawless at the hospital on Friday, where she and family were maintaining a bedside vigil.

She did not wish to comment beyond saying her father was "on the up".

She has maintained a stoic face for weeks, appearing at charity events despite dealing with her father's illness.

Her brother, Bill Ryan, said the cause of his father's infection had yet to be determined, and there were several possibilities. He did not want to criticise the hospital.

"We're in no doubt he's in the best place he could possibly be. With all operations such as this there is always an element of risk - he's fighting back hard. We're confident all the staff, surgeons and specialists, are looking after our dad. They've got everything under control."

Frank Ryan's brothers are twins Kevin, a high-profile Queen's Counsel, and Gerald, a lawyer and former boss of the New Zealand Rugby League.

Auckland Hospital's chief medical officer, David Sage, said he was unable to go into the details of Ryan's treatment as his family had not given permission to discuss it publicly.

"But we are satisfied that this patient received the highest standard of care. There are risks involved in any surgery and patients and, if appropriate, their families are always made fully aware of those risks."