Boy alleges epilepsy drug prescribed to mother during pregnancy caused him neurological damage

A teenager with developmental delay and autism is suing a general practitioner and a neurologist alleging they failed to properly inform his mother about the risks of taking certain epilepsy drugs while pregnant.

Alex Fahey, 16, who is suing through his mother Helen Maher Fahey, from Rathvilly, Co Carlow, was diagnosed with foetal valproate syndrome disorder, which is associated with the drug sodium valproate during pregnancy.

He alleges he suffered neurological damage as a baby due to his mother taking the drug, which has a brand name Epilim, while pregnant.

The court heard the medical understanding of the drug’s risks to foetuses has expanded in recent decades.

The case is against general practitioner Dr Patrick Feeney, who practices in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, and consultant neurologist Dr Janice Redmond, who works at a private clinic at St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

All of the claims are denied and will be robustly defended during the six-week hearing.

Opening the case on Wednesday, Aongus O’Brolchain, instructed by Michael Boylan solicitors, said Ms Fahey’s prescription for Epilim was increased and she was prescribed another anti-convulsant drug called Lamictal in 1997.

After falling pregnant in April 2005, Ms Fahey rang her neurologist’s office with concerns about Lamictal, said counsel. However, she cannot recall whether she spoke directly to the neurologist or to her secretary. Either way, said counsel, she came away from the call feeling reassured.

Mr O’Brolchain said Ms Fahey had no concerns about Epilim, which she had taken in a lower dose during previous pregnancies, as she had been told before that it was safe and folic acid would substantially reduce risks.

Counsel said she was not made aware that at this point that it was known among medical professionals that there were serious risks with taking Epilim. He added that she knew the associated risks up to 1998.

Ms Fahey had a miscarriage, which is not the subject of any allegations, but became pregnant with Alex in December 2005.

It transpired that, following Ms Fahey’s phone call in April, the neurologist contacted the GP in May stating Ms Fahey needed to be informed about the medication’s risks.

The GP sent a letter in June to Ms Fahey’s old address asking her to contact the surgery about the neurologist’s message. The court was told she didn’t receive the letter and the GP practice had her phone number.

Mr O’Brolchain said Ms Fahey “clearly wanted to have a child and both doctors thought she was with child”, so the risks of the drug Epilim should have been explained to her.

Counsel said the neurologist initially prescribed and set Ms Fahey’s medication dosage, while the GP wrote repeat prescriptions for the drugs.

She did not contact the neurologist with concerns when pregnant with Alex, the court heard in response to a question from Mr Justice Garrett Simons.

Patrick Hanratty, for the neurologist, said that following the April 2005 call his client asked Ms Fahey to come to the office, but she declined. He also said there were no alternative treatment options in 2005 that were known to carry fewer risks.

The judge will give a ruling on Thursday on whether it will allow both doctors to amend their defences.

Irish Examiner

November 2022