Woman left in ‘locked in’ state following surgery secures €2.5m settlement

Judge says case an ‘absolute tragedy’

 Jackie O’Leary, sister of Catherine, with family members Shane (brother) and parents Patrick  and Margaret speaking to the media outside the High Court yesterday. Photograph: Collins

Jackie O’Leary, sister of Catherine, with family members Shane (brother) and parents Patrick and Margaret speaking to the media outside the High Court yesterday. Photograph: Collins

Fri, Nov 15, 2013, 01:00

A woman left paralysed in a “locked-in” state following brain surgery at Cork University Hospital has secured €2.5 million in settlement of her High Court action. The settlement, made against the HSE, is without admission of liability.

Had a brain tumour diagnosis been made earlier in the case of 37-year-old Catherine O’Leary and surgery carried out, she would very probably have avoided catastrophic brain injury in 2008, it was claimed.

Continuous hiccoughs

Mother-of-one Ms O’Leary was first referred to the hospital in late 2005 because of continuous hiccoughs which had persisted for three months. No cause for the hiccoughs was found in investigations in April 2006 and, throughout that year and 2007, she continued to complain of severe persistent hiccoughs, weight-loss and headaches.

In November 2007, she went back to the hospital asking that her headaches be investigated. In January 2008, an MRI scan identified a brain tumour and she underwent surgery on January 31st, 2008.

Yesterday, Dr John O’Mahony, for Ms O’Leary, said there could be 100 different causes for continuous hiccoughs but there are 12 key ones which could have been investigated. A neurological examination in 2006 would have picked up on pressure in the eye area and this would have indicated central pressure from the brain, he said.

Brain tumour

Ms O’Leary, Drom an Oir, Kilmoney, Carrigaline, Co Cork, had, through her father Patrick O’Leary, Ballincollig, Co Cork sued over alleged negligence. The claims were denied.

It was claimed, since surgery for the removal of a brain tumour was carried out on January 31st, 2008, at the hospital, her physical and mental capacities have been catastrophically impaired. Among various claims, it was alleged there was failure to diagnose the presence of Ms O’Leary’s tumour in a timely fashion.

It was further alleged there was negligence in carrying out a pre-operative embolisation on or about January 31st, 2008, prior to brain surgery, and in allegedly 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.

Dr O’Mahony said it cost €100,000 a year to keep Ms O’Leary in a nursing home, but if she was to be cared for at home as her family would like, it would cost €496,000 a year.

‘Absolute tragedy’

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said it was an “absolute tragedy” but the case was a difficult one and the settlement should be “grasped with two hands”. Approving the settlement, she directed €400,000 be paid to the family for past care.

Outside court, Catherine’s sister Jackie said the settlement brought some closure for the family as they could now look after Catherine.