Trapped in her own world, Catherine O’Leary can only tell her family she loves them by blinking her eyes.
Squeezing her eyes tight, once for yes and twice for no, she can also sometimes manage a smile.
The 37-year-old mother of one has had locked-in syndrome since undergoing major brain surgery at Cork University Hospital five years ago.
Her family, who are constantly by her side, wept as the High Court awarded her €2.5m in damages against the HSE. The settlement was without admission of liability.
Now, the only wish for the O’Leary family, from Carrigaline and Ballincollig near Cork City, is that some day they can care fully for Catherine in their home and she can spend precious days with them rather than in a nursing home.
Her father, Patrick O’Leary, broke down as he told Ms Justice Mary Irvine how his daughter had always worked hard to provide a life for herself and her son Brandon, who is now 14.
He submitted photos of happier times for his daughter, once a fast food outlet manager, as she cuddled her beloved son.
The family’s life is now devoted to Catherine. Her father, mother Margaret, sister Jackie, and brother Shane have trained in how best to help Catherine, who is tetraplegic and can only feed and drink through a tube, cannot walk, and is dependant in all aspects of her daily life.
Patrick cried as he told how they travel 20 minutes from their home to the nursing home every day.
“Looking after Catherine is our life. Even when she is in the nursing home, we do 70 hours a week caring for her.
“She went to different doctors and, at one stage, they were even saying there was something wrong with her mind. She was put on anti-depressants. 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.”
Catherine, of Drom an Oir, Kilmoney, Carrigaline, Co Cork, sued the HSE for alleged negligence through her father.
It was claimed that, since surgery for the removal of a brain tumour on Jan 31, 2008, at Cork University Hospital, Catherine’s physical and mental capacities have been catastrophically impaired.
It was further claimed that had a brain tumour diagnosis been made on Catherine — who had first sought help for continuous hiccups three years earlier — and surgery carried out, it was very probable she would have avoided catastrophic brain injury.
It was further alleged there was negligence in carrying out a pre-operative embolisation on or about Jan 31, 2008, prior to brain surgery and permitting Catherine to contract the MRSA virus while in hospital. The HSE denied the claims.
Outside court, the family supported each other, as Jackie spoke and said the settlement of the High Court proceedings brought a bit of closure.
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