Family of woman (45) who never woke after surgery settles court action for €400,000

Patricia Kelly admitted as day patient for neck procedure at Cork University Hospital in February 2014 and died in December 2015 after being in coma for 22 months

Cork University Hospital. Photograph: Daragh Mac Sweeney/Provision.

The family of a 45-year-old woman who never woke up after a surgery at Cork University Hospital (CUH) has settled a High Court action over her death for €400,000.

Patricia Kelly, a mother of one from Cork City, died after being in a coma for 22 months at CUH following an operation on two discs in her neck in February 2014.

The family’s counsel Dr John O’Mahony SC, with James Cross BL, told the High Court everything appeared to go well in the surgery but Ms Kelly remained unconscious for 22 months before her death on December 17th, 2015.

Counsel said an MRI and other tests showed she was brain damaged. He said the issues in the case were complicated and the identification of the causation was not clear cut.


He said liability was fully contested in the case and the settlement was reached after mediation.

Ms Kelly’s husband, John Kelly, of Castletreasure, Douglas, Co Cork, had sued the Health Service Executive (HSE) over the death of his wife.

She was admitted as a day patient to CUH on February 11th, 2014, for surgery and did not wake up from the anaesthetic. She had a seizure on February 27th, 2014.

It was claimed that Ms Kelly had been admitted for day case surgery when the defendant knew or ought to have known this was inadequate, particularly when Ms Kelly was obese.

The case also alleged there was a failure to take adequate account of her history of diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

The HSE admitted a breach of duty in relation to some elements of the anaesthesia care, including anaesthetic pre-assessment, medical record keeping, blood pressure management, oxygenation and blood glucose management. However, it said these could not with certainty be deemed factors associated with her death.

The HSE denied her death was caused by any negligence or breach of duty and contended that the neck surgery was performed in a standard way with the usual approach to the cervical spine and a standard disc excision. During the surgery, blood oxygen levels were observed to be lower than expected but were not below a critical level, and most of the blood pressure readings were in the normal range, it said.

Noting the settlement, Mr Justice Paul Coffey conveyed his deepest sympathy to the Kelly family.

The inquest into Ms Kelly’s death heard she was a diabetic and had a history of hypertension. She suffered a simple fall in November 2013 but needed an urgent operation.

Patricia’s husband John dropped her off for the neck surgery expecting to pick her up later in the day but was told at 12.30pm that she was not waking up.

When the family arrived at the hospital, it was claimed, all they were told was that the operation had gone well but no explanation was given as to why she was not waking up.

The allegations were denied.