A settlement of €690,000 has been approved by the High Court to a young girl who had sued both the HSE and a Dublin hospital for alleged medical negligence arising out of the care she received before and during the months following her birth.
The award, settled without admission of liability, was made in favour of Aisling Lenehan, 7, who was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and heart problems following her birth in Sligo General Hospital in Dec 2004.
Through her mother Patricia Lynch, Aisling sued the HSE and Our Ladies Children’s Hospital Crumlin seeking damages for alleged medical negligence for failing to diagnose and treat Aisling in a timely fashion.
It was claimed there was a five-month delay before Aisling, who attended at both Sligo General Hospital and Our Ladies Hospital in Crumlin, received a cardiology review.
There was a delay in starting Aisling on the appropriate medication, it was submitted.
The delay, it was claimed caused her to develop severe pulmonary hypertension, a severe condition which effects the heart and is irreversible.
The court heard the family, who currently reside in the Austrian capital Vienna, hope to return to Ireland.
In a statement after yesterday’s ruling, Ms Lynch said she was delighted and relieved “the ordeal was over”. The case, which started four weeks ago, was “a game of high-stakes poker”, she said.
Had the family lost the action, she said, they could have lost everything, including their home.
However, as a result of the settlement, they could now achieve things that would hugely improve the quality of Aisling’s life.
Ms Lynch expressed her gratitude to her lawyers and those within the legal system who had come to the family’s aid when “Aisling and I most needed it”.
In the proceedings, it had been alleged that the defendants failed to treat or care for Aisling properly. It was also alleged that the defendants failed to diagnose that Aisling had silent aspirations, a condition where food and liquids can enter into the lungs without that person showing visible signs of discomfort, such as choking or turning red.
It was further alleged the defendants failed to diagnose in a timely manner that Aisling had hiatus hernia, a condition in which a portion of the upper stomach slips through the diaphragm and up into the chest, resulting in painful heartburn.
Both those conditions, which it was claimed were diagnosed after a two-year delay, exacerbated her pulmonary hypertension.
It was also claimed that the defendants failed to arrange an expedited appointment for Aisling with a cardiologist. It was further alleged that the HSE failed to diagnose her Down’s Syndrome and her heart condition prior to her birth.
Aisling will require medication and care for the rest of her life.
The defendants denied the claims and the action was settled without admission of liability. The settlement was approved yesterday by the President of High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who praised the family for their dedication and the level of care they have provided to date for Aisling.
The judge added that, in the circumstances, Aisling had received a good settlement. Had they lost the case, they would have come away with nothing.
After years of being mistreated, we lost total confidence in the HSE
Excerpts from statements by Patricia Lynch, mother of Aisling Lenehan:
“Aisling was born on 18 December, 2004, at Sligo General Hospital. She was born with Down’s Syndrome and a heart problem.
Aisling should have been referred to, and seen by, a paediatric cardiologist within the first six weeks of her life. Aisling was not seen in the first six weeks of life as she should have been.
At the age of five months, on 13 May, 2005, Aisling collapsed. She was admitted to Sligo Hospital and transferred to Crumlin, where she was diagnosed as suffering with the life-threatening condition of Pulmonary Hypertension.
Aisling’s life was in danger but, fortunately, she survived, but her whole life and ours has been changed dramatically since then.
Whilst in Crumlin Hospital in May 2005, and when we were referred back to Sligo Hospital, we told the hospital personnel again about the feeding problems.
However, it took almost two-and-a-half years for this to be fully investigated.
When they were investigated, it was found that Aisling had been suffering from reflux (gastric contents/acid being regurgitated up into her mouth and nose) and aspiration (food — and in Aisling’s case acid reflux — being inhaled straight into her lungs rather than stomach). The acid from the reflux/aspiration caused the collapse in May 2005.
During the time the reflux and aspiration went undiagnosed, Aisling’s Pulmonary Hypertension and her little lungs were aggravated. The position now is that Aisling is on continuous oxygen and medication. She is effectively tied to an oxygen machine day and night for 365 days of the year every year. There is no cure for the condition, and it is ultimately fatal.
After almost three years of being mistreated and ignored, we lost total confidence in the HSE, and decided to leave Ireland. We moved to Vienna in Austria and have lived there since. We had written to the HSE to complain about the inadequacy of the services that had been afforded to Aisling in relation to the management of her feeding problems.
The response (which took many months to get), was that, as this was a “clinical matter”, it could not be investigated.
Cantillons [Solicitors] sought an explanation for us from the HSE/Crumlin. They did not get it. In fact what they got at every twist and turn was obstruction and obfuscation.
Cantillons issued High Court proceedings against the HSE in respect of what happened at Sligo General Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children.
We felt we had no option but to sue. Not only did [the HSE] not [apologise], but they insulted us, fought us, and put every possible legal obstacle in our way.
The case in any event started on 20 April.
After I gave my evidence, I was then told that there was now an “all-in” offer of €250,000.
On days that the evidence appeared to go well, an offer would be made by the HSE which would be slightly better than the preceding offer.
The defendants then came to us and seemed to be more realistic in their negotiations on this occasion and offered, late afternoon on 22 May 2012, a sum of €690,000 together with full costs, which costs have to be taxed if we cannot agree them. The stakes for us were so high. Every cent we got, meant that the quality of Aisling’s life could be so much improved.
We sought help from the HSE and Crumlin. We did not get it. Aisling has a terminal illness because of this.
I do not ask for an apology now, as an asked for apology is worthless.
I just hope when the bills come in, that the HSE do not try, behind closed doors, to take Aisling’s money back.”
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