Wednesday 13 November 2019

Lifeline for baby Charlie's parents as US expert to fly to London to examine him

Charlie Gard’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, arrive at the High Court in London. Photo: Reuters
Charlie Gard’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, arrive at the High Court in London. Photo: Reuters

Robert Mendick in London

A US professor telephoned Great Ormond Street Hospital in London at the request of the White House offering dramatic new evidence in the fight to keep Charlie Gard alive.

The British High Court heard yesterday how the eminent doctor - who cannot be named for legal reasons - was contacted by Donald Trump's staff a day after the president tweeted his support for the 11-month-old baby.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard. Photo: PA
Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard. Photo: PA

Mr Justice Francis, who ruled in April that Charlie's life support should be switched off, asked the physician if he would now be prepared to fly to London to examine the baby if the case was adjourned for a few days.

The doctor replied: " Yes, if necessary, I would love to do that."

The neurologist told the court that a new analysis of a study of nine children with a disease similar to Charlie's but not nearly as severe showed five of them - equivalent to a 56pc success rate - had improved after receiving experimental treatment.

One child, who had been breathing on a ventilator for eight hours a day, no longer needs one at all.

Charlie suffers from a rare form of mitochondrial depletion syndrome. Unlike the children in the doctor's study, the illness affects not only his muscles but also his brain.

But the doctor said he could see no evidence from scans that Charlie had suffered irreversible brain damage.

The possibility that the judge may now be open to allowing an assessment threw an extraordinary lifeline to Charlie's parents Connie Yates (31) and Chris Gard (33).

Charlie's case has become a worldwide cause célèbre and with tensions running high, Mr Justice Francis also spoke of his deep concern that doctors treating Charlie at Great Ormond Street had been "subjected to the most vile abuse" and threats.

He issued a warning that perpetrators who were caught would be punished and said it "was grossly unfair" that staff had been targeted.

During Thursday's hearing, Katie Gollop QC said while cross-examining the doctor via a video link: "You had a discussion with Great Ormond Street at the request of the White House on July 4."

The telephone call led to the hospital going back to the High Court to reassess in light of alleged new evidence from the doctor, prompting new hearings this week.

The hospital maintains that there is no dramatic new evidence that should reverse the decision made by Mr Justice Francis and upheld in the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the European courts.

The same doctor had given evidence in April in support of experimental treatment for Charlie but at the time admitted the chance's of the boy's condition improving was "highly unlikely".

Via video link, he said - nine days after the White House intervention - that Charlie was merely "unlikely" to improve.

Victoria Butler-Cole, a lawyer acting for Charlie's legal guardian, questioned why he suddenly thought Charlie's chances had improved after three months, during which time his head had not grown, indicating his brain is damaged. She said: "What I am struggling with is how come you concluded a future better than the one given in April?"

The professor had earlier told the court: "I estimate the chance of meaningful success [of the treatment] to be at least 10pc."

He said there was a small but significant chance of improvement in brain function, adding that he had "over-reached" when he had said at the April hearing that it was likely Charlie's brain damage was irreversible.

At one point during yesterday's hearing, Charlie's parents, who live in Bedfont, west London, stormed out of court furious at the judge for saying: "They [the couple] have not been fighting to retain what he has now but fighting for a chance to give him the treatment to possibly improve."

Mr Gard stood up at this and said: "We're not allowed, are we," adding: "I thought this was supposed to be independent."

Ms Yates said: "He's not suffering and not in pain." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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