A woman whose son recently settled a High Court action for €1.5m is campaigning for routine pregnancy scans that could potentially save babies’ lives and spare them from significant brain injury
Mother-of-two Maria Meehan (44), from north Dublin, gave birth to her son Ricci (10) in July 2012. However, she suffered vasa praevia, a rare pregnancy complication which she believes led to her son suffering a neurological impairment.
Ms Meehan said she would “give all the money in the world” for her son to live a “normal life”. But instead she feels forced to watch the son she loves endure daily “torment”.
Vasa praevia is a rare condition in pregnancy where blood vessels connecting the umbilical cord lie over or near the entrance to the birth canal.
During labour the blood vessels can burst, causing severe blood loss for the foetus or death. It occurs in about one in every 2,500 deliveries.
However, there is currently no routine screening for the condition at the 20-week anomaly scan. Ricci has autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. He suffers regular “meltdowns”. The “handsome” child with a “beautiful smile” is also unable to interact with other children, his mother said.
He often “punches and kicks” his mother. In June, Ricci, through his mother, settled a High Court action for an interim payment of €1.5m.The settlement against the Rotunda Hospital was made without admission of liability.
It was alleged there was a failure to diagnose vasa praevia at four ultrasound examinations during Ms Meehan’s pregnancy.
Ms Meehan believes the condition led to the troubled pregnancy and birth. She is now campaigning, alongside her medical negligence lawyer, Michael Boylan, for the condition to be routinely screened at 20 weeks.
During labour, Ricci had to be resuscitated a number of times, Ms Meehan said. When he was a toddler it became clear the boy was suffering from a neurological impairment.
“Sometimes Ricci won’t leave the house for a week due to anxiety. It’s hell every morning getting him ready for school,” she said. “Ricci cries, kicks, punches me. He goes into meltdowns and can wreck the apartment, trying to break things.
“I love my son. It was a miracle he lived. But life is incredibly hard. I feel my life has stopped. I don’t want other women to go through this.”
The mother said she knew “something was very wrong,” during her pregnancy, when she “passed blood” and experienced “excruciating pain”. She “bled profusely” during labour and recalls “going into shock” as her baby was delivered and “resuscitated repeatedly”.
Ms Meehan said if the HSE rolled out regular vasa praevia screening during 20-week ultrasounds, the condition could be detected.
“Ricci will never be like other children. His behaviour was so bad. He’s been on about 10 or 11 different medications, just to try to calm him down,” Ms Meehan said. “Ricci will have private therapy from the settlement money, but we are yet to access it.”
Michael Boylan, who represented the family during the High Court case has written to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly calling for the screening to be introduced.
“It won’t cost a lot of money or time to do it. It will save misery, death and morbidity,” Mr Boylan said.
He said it is “an appalling tragedy every year” that women and babies suffer even though the condition could be “easily remedied by just doing this simple screening”.
A HSE spokesperson said an Irish national clinical guideline on ultrasound scanning is “now under development.”
“The guideline is anticipated to be completed later in the year and will then address and define what clinically comprises a routine anatomy scan evaluation in Ireland,” the spokesperson added.