Brain-dead pregnant woman kept on life support
Jury in inquest into death returns an open verdict
Published 23/09/2015 | 02:30
A pregnant mother of two was found to have an exceedingly large cyst on the left side of her brain after she was initially admitted to hospital with severe headaches, an inquest heard.
The woman was later kept on life support for 24 days after she was declared brain-dead because her unborn baby still had a heartbeat.
Her life support was switched off after a special sitting of a three-judge division of the High Court last St Stephen's Day, which ruled treatment could be withdrawn, as there was no genuine prospect of her baby being born alive. She was about 15 weeks pregnant at the time.
The jury in the inquest into her death yesterday returned an open verdict.
Earlier, the inquest at Mullingar Courthouse heard the woman had been complaining of headaches from early September 2014, but it was not until November 29 that doctors in Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar discovered she had a cyst on her brain - two days after she was admitted crying about the pain and pressure in her head.
Her GP, Rosemary Cunningham O'Leary, said she had originally diagnosed her patient with severe morning sickness and a urinary tract infection.
Dr O'Leary said it would have been totally unexpected that the cause of the woman's vomiting would have been anything else other than morning sickness complicated by the infection.
The woman's father said his daughter had been complaining constantly of headaches since early September, as well as dizziness and vision impairment.
She had been admitted to the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar on three occasions and put on drips twice, he said.
Her foetus had been scanned, but he said she had not been scanned for her headache.
By November 27, her headaches were so bad she asked her aunt to bring her to hospital.
In a statement, the aunt said her niece was distraught, crying, vomiting and unsteady on her feet. As she left the hospiital - the last time she saw her alive - she kissed her niece on the forehead and her niece said "thanks so much".
The following night, when her father saw her in hospital, she was still complaining about headaches, was unable to talk very much and was holding her head and covering her left eye.
This was the last time he saw his daughter alive, he said.
On the night of November 29, he was called from the hospital to tell him his daughter was unresponsive.
A consultant who examined her in Midland Regional Hospital earlier that afternoon said the patient had no obvious distress and she had no concern that she was suffering from anything more than very severe morning sickness.
Hilary Cronin said the patient "looked well", adding that there was no evidence of any pressure build-up in her brain.
Consultant neurologist Stephen McNally said a CT scan carried out on the young woman after she had become unconscious showed a very large cyst.
The woman was moved to Beaumont Hospital, where her surgeon said she was already "gone" by the time she arrived.
When her family were told her life support could not be turned off due to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects the right to life of the unborn, the woman's fiancé sought legal advice about mounting a legal challenge.
The inquest heard that after a brain stem test on December 3, the woman was declared to be dead. Her life-support machine was turned off on December 27 after the court challenge.