Medical Negligence

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HSE says sorry over brain-dead mother kept alive for weeks


Further substantial damages awards are expected to be made early next year in favour of relatives of a pregnant woman who say they were subjected to "a nightmare" after she was kept on a life-support machine despite being clinically brain-dead.

Mother-of-two Natasha Perie (26) was kept alive artificially for four weeks in 2014 because of erroneous concerns that ending life-support would have been in breach of the Eighth Amendment.

The HSE finally apologised yesterday, almost five years after failings in Ms Perie's care led to a large cerebral cyst on her brain going undiagnosed.

The apology came as the High Court heard claims from six of Ms Perie's relatives for nervous shock had been settled.

Sources said the sums involved were "substantial", although the only one publicly disclosed was a €150,000 payment to Ms Perie's 11-year-old daughter.

Several of Ms Perie's relatives were in court, including her father Peter, brother Daniel and aunts Mary and Susan.

Pregnant mother-of-two Natasha Perie was kept on life support despite being clinically brain-dead for almost four weeks in 2014 because of concerns about the Eighth Amendment

"While today's apology brings some closure, and will allow us finally grieve for Natasha, the pain, heartbreak and distress will never go away. Natasha is gone forever," Peter Perie said afterwards.

The family's case is not yet over, however, and yesterday's settlements are expected to be dwarfed when further claims for loss of financial support suffered by Ms Perie's dependants are due to be assessed in January.

Ultimately the case could end up costing the State several million euro when legal costs are taken into account, but it will be some time before the final figure is known.

Details of the tragic case were first revealed by the Irish Independent in December 2014.

Ms Perie began complaining of severe headaches in September that year.

A failure to diagnose the problem left her brain-dead within days of her admission to the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar on November 27.

She was formally declared brain-dead on December 3, but doctors would not turn off her life-support machine as her foetus still had a heartbeat.

This gave rise to concerns they could be in breach of the Eighth Amendment, since repealed, which gave equal status to the rights of mothers and the unborn.

The family were forced to go to the High Court in a bid to allow her to rest in peace.

A three-judge court ruled on St Stephen's Day 2014 that the ventilator could be switched off. This would happen the following day.

Approving the €150,000 settlement for Ms Perie's daughter yesterday, Mr Justice Kevin Cross said the High Court had found there had been an erroneous view that there was some obligation to keep Ms Perie alive as a result of the Eighth Amendment.

The court heard Ms Perie's daughter, then six, had witnessed her in a deteriorating and unrecognisable condition on life support and had been present when it was switched off.

Denis McCullough SC, instructed by solicitor Gillian O'Connor, told the court that Ms Perie's daughter was horrified when she witnessed the condition her mother was in.

Mr Justice Cross said the child had endured a terrible time and that he hoped when she became an adult she would be comforted by good memories of her mother.

Legal actions were initiated by Ms Perie's relatives against the HSE in 2016 and the family are known to be upset the case was not settled sooner.

Liability in respect of their main claim, that her death was caused by a failure to diagnose the brain cyst, was admitted only earlier this year.

Mediation was directed by the court earlier this month after the HSE said various family members had to prove they met the criteria for nervous shock.

Nervous shock is a psychiatric injury, beyond emotional grief or distress, suffered as a result of negligence or breach of duty.

In an apology read to the court, Midland Regional Hospital general manager Anita Brennan said she wanted to offer "sincere and deepest sympathy" over Ms Perie's death in the hospital's care.

"I would like to convey our sincere apologies to you and your family for the failings in the care provided to Natasha and for the consequential upset, distress and trauma you and your family have endured," she said.

In a statement on behalf of the family after yesterday's hearing, Peter Perie said: "Five years ago, my beautiful daughter Natasha was admitted to Mullingar general hospital suffering from severe headaches and was misdiagnosed as suffering from morning sickness.

"She was a 26-year-old pregnant young girl. Sadly, Natasha never came home. She died as a result of a large cerebral cyst that went undiagnosed while in hospital.

"What followed was nothing short of a nightmare."

Mr Perie said the civil action was his family's third encounter with the legal system since his daughter's death.

The application over her life support meant the family had to spend Christmas Eve and St Stephen's Day in court. Mr Perie said for his two grandchildren Christmas would be "forever associated with the loss of their beloved mum".

Then there was an inquest in September 2015, which Mr Perie described as "horrendous and distressing".

The High Court has previously heard the issue of negligence was "hotly contested" at the inquest hearing.

Mr Perie said the family were made to feel like they were on trial and described the open verdict as "unsatisfactory".

"The facts which the family maintained were correct at the inquest were disputed at the inquest by the HSE but have since been admitted," he said.

Shane Phelan

Irish Independent