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
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
“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
“Money does not mean anything except in relation to
Catherine, of Drom an Oir, Kilmoney, Carrigaline, Co
Cork, sued the HSE for alleged negligence through her
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
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.