A judge has ruled in favour of a young girl who has been left severely disabled after her hydrocephalus was left untreated for many months after a missed diagnosis by a public health nurse.
In April 2008, three-month old Ava Kiernan was displaying symptoms of hydrocephalus. The disease-commonly known as “water on the brain” is caused by spinal fluid collecting in the skull as a result of it not draining from the brain. A common symptom in young children is a sudden increase in the circumference of head, or for bulges to appear lower at the base of the skull.
Concerned for her daughter’s wellbeing, Ruth Kiernan brought her to seek medical attention. She was first seen by a public health nurse, who did not diagnose anything wrong with Ava, and failed to arrange a follow-up consultation for her. However, in September that year, Ruth brought Ava back to hospital, still concerned by her daughter’s symptoms. Her skull was measured, but the procedure was performed incorrectly, resulting in inaccurate results.
Due to these errors, and the original nurse’s negligence, the pressure of the spinal fluid in the skull resulted in Ava suffering from brain damage. She now suffers from both physical and mental disabilities, and is heavily reliant on her parents.
On her daughter’s behalf, Ruth Kiernan sought legal advice. She made a hydrocephalus brain injury claim for compensation against the HSE. The claim argued that had consultation been organised after the original visit, the rapid change in the size of the young girl’s head would have been identified and thus treated. Furthermore, had subsequent measurements been made correctly, further damage could have been avoided.
The HSE denied any negligence by their staff and rejected liability. The case was then brought to the High Court to resolve the dispute in liability. The case was heard by Mr Justice Kevin Cross, who ruled in Ava’s favour after three weeks. He stated that if there had been the appropriate follow-up examination, or if the measurement of her head in September had been carried out correctly, the hydrocephalus would have been identified and suitably treated. Had it been identified, the judge stated that Ava never would have suffered the brain damage due to the excess of fluid.
Judge Cross adjourned the case so that an investigation into Ava’s future needs could be assessed, and an appropriate settlement could be made to provide for her future. He further stated that he hoped for a structured payment system to be put in place by the government such that a lump sum payment could be avoided.