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Brain damage 'left man like a child'

A 45-year-old, who was left like "a child in a man's body" after suffering brain damage as a result of cold sores, yesterday secured €4.5m in a High Court settlement.

Martin O'Brien (45) was left brain damaged from a viral infection after suffering viral encephalitis as a result of a herpes simplex (cold sores).

The settlement includes payments for Mr O'Brien's family and was made without admission of liability.

Mr O'Brien, his wife Anna Marie and their children Rachael and Benjamin, of Laurel Park, Newcastle, Co Galway, sued the HSE and a number of doctors over his treatment between late January 1996 and late March 1996.

Mrs O'Brien told the court yesterday she loved her husband, as did their children. He had been "a very good husband", but was now brain damaged, could not work and needed everything to be done for him.

"I always wanted justice for him," she said, and was very sorry it had taken 15 years to get to this point. She and her children felt they were left on their own for a long time by the health services, she said.

Her children had also suffered and she believed the law should be changed to reflect that. Mr Justice John Quirke said he didn't disagree with her.

The settlement is against one of the doctors -- Dr Brendan S Duffy, who was attached to Merlin Park Regional Hospital, Galway, in 1996, when he allegedly treated Mr O'Brien there some weeks after Mr O'Brien developed and was treated by others for an itchy rash and sores. The proceedings against all other defendants were struck out.


All defendants had denied liability and, in seeking approval for the settlement yesterday, counsel for the family said it was a "very unusual" case and was "not certain" his side would win on liability in a full hearing.

The defendants argued the treatment given to Mr O'Brien was reasonable; while the family argued Mr O'Brien should have been given particular treatment on March 31, 1996, rather than April 4, 1996.

It was not contended that he should have been diagnosed immediately as the initial rash was not caused by the virus.

However, it was alleged Dr Duffy should have been alert to the possibility of herpes simplex in March 1996.

They were not contending diagnosis should have been made immediately but were contending Dr Duffy should have been alert to the possibility Mr O'Brien had herpes simplex, counsel said.

As a result of his injuries, Mr O'Brien is "like a child in a man's body" and needs 24-hour care. His wife and children provided that care.

It was alleged Mr O'Brien developed an itchy rash with round red sores around January 22, 1996. He was believed to have scabies and prescribed benzyl benzoate but referred by a doctor to University College Hospital, Galway, the same day as an emergency case.

At UCH, Mr O'Brien was advised his body rash was eczema and he might also have had scabies. When reviewed on February 9, it was claimed Mr O'Brien still complained of a generalised itchy eczemaous rash and was advised to continue using the prescriptions advised on January 22.

Mr O'Brien did not fully recover and about the end of March 1996 complained of aches, pains, fevers, sweating, memory loss, agitation and was smoking heavily, it was claimed.

It was claimed Mr O'Brien collapsed while leaving Merlin Park hospital on March 31, 1996, and was admitted to that hospital under its care and the care of Dr Duffy.

It was alleged he complained of having had a blackout, loss of memory, headache, neck stiffness, diminished power in his lower limbs and abnormal rolling of his eyes.

By that evening, he was unable to recognise his wife and examinations and tests suggested encephalitis and possibly herpes simplex, it was claimed.

Irish Independent