Fatal CJD contracted during brain op as a child

A man who contracted CJD during a brain operation performed when he was a child died 30 years later, an inquest heard.

Noel Kavanagh, aged 36, from Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny, lived a full life until he became ill in 2013 and died on October 20, 2014.

Thirty years previously, in July 1983, he underwent an eight-hour brain operation at the old Richmond Hospital on North Brunswick Street in Dublin. The neurosurgery followed a fall from a tractor in which Mr Kavanagh, then aged five, sustained a serious head injury.

He had a difficult recovery initially but subsequently improved and went on to live a full and busy life, Dublin Coroner’s Court heard. He enjoyed running and played soccer and was involved in the Special Olympics.

He was able to manage independently and worked in a garden centre, the court heard.

He was enjoying life until May 2013 when he began to feel tired, listless and drowsy.

He was brought to St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny and later transferred to Beaumount Hospital in Dublin. CT scans and a lumbar puncture were carried out and Mr Kavanagh was treated for an infection, thought to be a bacterial infection or meningitis, with antibiotics and steroids.

However, his clinical condition did not improve. He developed epilepsy and consultant neurosurgeon at Beaumont hospital Donncha O’Brien said a hemispherectomy — a rare surgical procedure where half of the brain is removed — was agreed as a treatment for persistent seizures.

During this procedure, brain tissue slides were taken and sent for analysis, revealing the presence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD. Mr Kavanagh had contracted CJD 30 years previously due to contaminated donor-graft tissue inserted during the neurosurgery performed at the old Richmond Hospital.

A post-mortem examination confirmed the diagnosis of CJD. The cause of death was brain changes due to CJD, related to the operation in 1983. Coroner Brian Farrell returned a narrative verdict setting out the circumstances of Mr Kavanagh’s death. Dr Farrell said a variant of CJD emerged in the early 2000s related to burger meat but this case concerned infected donor tissue.

“This is a set of unfortunate circumstances. The initial head injury was not fatal, but during that treatment, Noel contracted the infection,” he said.

Solicitor Michael Condren, representing the Kavanagh family, said it had been a testing and emotional time for the family.

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