AN award-winning part-time opera singer left severely disabled after a hospital and a GP failed to properly diagnose the cause of her headaches has been awarded €2.39m in an interim damages settlement at the High Court.
Elaine Lennon (36) can now only speak in a whisper, is wheelchair-bound and will require 24-hour care for the rest of her life because doctors failed to diagnose an infection in her brain.
She would have been fine if a CT scan of her brain had been carried out in time, the court heard. Ms Lennon was 39 weeks pregnant at the time of her injury, when she almost died, and gave birth to a baby girl, Claudia, who is healthy.
She could not only have gone on to make a lot of money as a singer but also as a psychologist as she was conferred with a master's degree in psychology just a few months after her injury, Mr Justice John Quirke said when he approved the interim settlement.
Suing through her father, John Lennon, Ms Lennon, formerly of Newhaven Bay, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, brought the action against the HSE and Dr Patrick Mathuna, a GP at Castle Mill Medical Centre, Balbriggan. Liability was admitted by both defendants.
It was alleged Ms Lennon arrived at the A&E department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, on February 4, 2007, complaining of headaches. She was diagnosed as suffering from a urinary tract infection and dehydration, it was claimed. As she was pregnant, she was assessed by a midwife and later underwent a caesarean section.
Ms Lennon continued to complain of headaches, neck stiffness and was not responding to antibiotics. Doctors at the hospital twice queried whether she should have a CT scan of her brain but no scan was carried out and she was discharged on February 11 along with her baby, it was claimed.
She continued to suffer from headaches and was vomiting. She attended Dr Mathuna's clinic on February 14 when she was given an injection which worked for around 24 hours. Dr Mathuna called to her on February 17 and told her he believed she could be suffering with post-natal depression and prescribed a sedative.
Later that day, Ms Lennon collapsed at home and was rushed to hospital. The next day she had two seizures. A CT scan was then carried out, which revealed an abscess in her brain had burst into the ventricles.
It was alleged the HSE, as operator of the hospital, was negligent by failing to carry out the CT scan when she first went to hospital and carried it out too late on the second admission.
It was alleged Dr Mathuna was negligent by wrongly diagnosing her symptoms as pregnancy-related and in failing to refer her to the hospital.
Senior counsel Bruce Antoniotti, for the family, said that at the age of 16 Ms Lennon had been accepted by the College of Music and had performed for Opera Ireland and in other international competitions. Today, she speaks in a whisper because her injury caused the loss of her voice.
She worked for An Post before joining the HSE as a psychologist. She was also studying a masters in science. She had set up home in Balbriggan with her partner Marcus Connolly and they planned to start a family. Ms Lennon now lives in a nursing home but her family are desperate to get back together again and it was hoped, with the settlement, she could buy a house equipped with various aids.
Mr Justice Quirke said he had no problem approving the settlement and would make a decision about Ms Lennon's future care on Tuesday.