A claim for a brain injury caused by hydrocephalus has been resolved in the High Court after the Health Service Executive was found guilty of medical negligence.
At the age of three months, Ava Kiernan started developing the symptoms of hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”). The condition was caused by spinal fluid “pooling” in Ava´s skull because it has failed to drain from the brain and is most commonly identified in children under the age of one year by a rapid expansion of the head´s circumference or bulges appearing as “soft spots” around the skull.
In April 2008, a public health nurse examined Ava and measured her head. However – despite the concern´s of Ava´s mother – no recall for a second examination was arranged. A subsequent measurement of Ava´s head in September, which could have identified the hydrocephalus condition, was conducted incorrectly.
Due to the nurse´s failure to act and the subsequent errors in the measurement of her head, the pressure from the spinal fluid pooling in her skull resulted in Ava suffering brain damage. Ava´s mother – Ruth Kiernan from Duleek in County Meath – made a claim for a brain injury caused by hydrocephalus against the Health Service Executive (HSE), claiming that her daughter´s mental and physical disabilities were attributable to medical negligence.
The claim for a brain injury due to hydrocephalus was contested by the HSE, and the case went to the High Court where it was heard by Mr Justice Kevin Cross. After hearing evidence for three weeks, Judge Cross found in Ava´s favour. He said that if Ava had been recalled for a second examination four weeks after the initial head measurement in April 2008, or the subsequent measurement of her head in September had been conducted correctly, Ava´s hydrocephalus would likely have been identified.
The judge continued to say that Ava´s hydrocephalus would have been diagnosed after a scan and treated by a shunt before it resulted in permanent brain damage. Judge Cross said that the public health nurse´s failure to act on Ruth´s concerns was “materially causative” to Ava´s brain injury and he adjourned the claim for a brain injury caused by hydrocephalus in order that an assessment can be conducted to determine an appropriate settlement of damages.