Mum-of-one awarded €2.5m after five years ‘locked in’

Trapped in her own world, Catherine O’Leary can only

Mum-of-one awarded €2.5m after five years ‘locked in’

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

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


“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


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.

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