CUH settles with mother for €2.5m

 Jackie O'Leary, sister of Catherine,  who was left in a locked-in state after brain surgery at CUH, is comforted after the settlement hearing by her brother Shane and their parents Patrick and Margaret O'Leary of Ballincollig, Co Cork. Picture: Courtpix.

A mother left in a “locked-in” state after brain surgery at Cork University Hospital has settled her High Court action for damages for €2.5m.

The settlement against the HSE was without admission of liability.

It was claimed that had a brain tumour diagnosis been made on Catherine O’Leary — who had first sought help for continuous hiccoughs three years earlier — and surgery carried out, it was very probable she would have avoided catastrophic brain injury.

Ms O’Leary, the High Court heard, was referred to a clinic at CUH at the end of 2005 because of continuous hiccoughs which had persisted for three months. No cause for the recurrent hiccoughs was found in investigations in Apr 2006 and throughout that year.

Ms O’Leary continued to complain of severe, persistent hiccoughs, weight loss, and headaches the following year.

In Nov 2007, she went back to the clinic and asked that her headaches be investigated. In Jan 2008, an MRI showed up a brain tumour and she underwent surgery on Jan 31, 2008.

Dr John O’Mahony, for Ms O’Leary, told the High Court yesterday there could be 100 different possible causes for continuous hiccoughs, but there are 12 key ones which could have been investigated.

A neurological examination in 2006, he said, would have picked up on pressure in the eye area and this would have indicated central pressure from the brain.

Dr O’Mahony said there was an underlying growth in Ms O’Leary’s brain. He said while the MRI identified a new growth in the brain area, his side criticised the management of that.

Dr O’Mahony said that Ms O’leary now has locked-in syndrome.

Ms O’Leary, aged 37, of Drom an Oir, Kilmoney, Carrigaline, Co Cork, had, through her father Patrick O’Leary, Ballincollig, Co Cork, sued the HSE for alleged negligence.

It was claimed that since surgery for the removal of a brain tumour on Jan 31, 2008, at CUH, Ms O’Leary’s physical and mental capacities have been catastrophically impaired. It was claimed there was alleged negligence in failing to diagnose the presence of Ms O’Leary’s tumour at an early a stage as possible.

It was alleged there was negligence in carrying out a pre-operative embolisation on or about Jan 31, 2008, prior to brain surgery and permitting Ms O’Leary to contract the MRSA virus while in hospital.

The alleged delay in diagnosing the brain tumour made it necessary to remove a much larger tumour from Ms O’Leary’s brain than would have been the case had a proper diagnosis been made at an earlier stage, it was alleged. The HSE denied the claims.

Dr O’Mahony said the real issue in the case for the O’Leary family is that it costs €100,000 per annum to keep Catherine in a nursing home, but if she was to be cared for at home it would be €10,000 a week or €496,000 a year.

Ms O’Leary’s father Patrick broke down in the witness box as he showed photographs of Catherine with her son, Brandon, who is now 14.

“Looking after Catherine is our life. Even when she is in the nursing home we do 70 hours a week caring for her,” he said.

“She was such a hard worker, she worked up to three weeks before the operation. She insisted she have a brain scan. Money does not mean anything except in relation to her care.”

Ms Justice Marty Irvine said it was an “absolute tragedy”, but that the case was a difficult one.

The settlement offer, she said, should be “grasped with two hands”.

Approving the settlement, the judge paid out €400,000 to the family for past care.


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