No plan to operate yet on Cork woman with hep C


Doctors at a London hospital said yesterday they had "no immediate plans" to carry out a liver transplant on a critically-ill Cork woman who has hepatitis C.

A spokeswoman for King's College Hospital, to which Ms Sylvia O'Leary was airlifted at the weekend, said last night that doctors were trying to stabilise her condition before they addressed the question of surgery.

Ms O'Leary (32), a mother of two from Ballincollig, Co Cork, arrived at the hospital by air ambulance on Saturday night after suffering partial liver and kidney failure. She had previously been on a life-support machine at Cork University Hospital.

The King's College Hospital spokeswoman said Ms O'Leary remained critically ill and, as a result, was unlikely to undergo surgery for at least a couple of days.

"There are no immediate plans for surgery. My understanding is that the medical team is assessing her health rather than at the stage of hunting for a liver," she said.

Ms O'Leary was at the centre of controversy last week when her family accused the Minister for Health of gambling on her life by delaying payment of a compensation package believed to be worth about €1 million.

Her husband, Des, said that Mr Martin and his officials were "playing a game of poker" with her life on the basis that, if something happened to her, they could "walk away" without paying. The claims were vehemently denied by Mr Martin, who has since given a written commitment to the family that the deal will be honoured whether or not Ms O'Leary survives what would be her third liver transplant.

She was infected with hepatitis C after receiving a contaminated unit of blood during her first such transplant at King's College Hospital on April 11th, 1991. This transplant was to treat auto-immune hepatitis, which she had developed through a kidney disorder. In March 2002, she had to undergo a second liver transplant because of damage caused to the organ by hepatitis C. She had only learnt of her infection with the virus during the previous year.

Ms O'Leary's case for compensation was complicated by the fact that the closing date for applications to the hepatitis C compensation tribunal had passed by the time she became aware of her infection.

Even though she was infected in the UK, the State accepted responsibility because she had been treated under its care. Prior to the setting up of liver transplant facilities at the Mater Hospital in Dublin in 1995, all such patients were referred overseas. Her case is not unique. At least three other people infected with hepatitis C through transplants overseas have been compensated by the State.

Under the compensation package, Ms O'Leary is entitled to continue receiving treatment at King's College Hospital, which is her wish. Despite the fact that she had been infected there, Ms O'Leary had "great faith" in the hospital's medical staff, said her solicitor, Ms Melissa Gowan.