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Missed Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus in Infant Heard in Court

The case of a missed diagnosis of hydrocephalus in an infant has been heard at the High Court.

In April 2008, Ava Kiernan was brought to see a public health nurse when she was just three months old. Her head had rapidly increased in circumference, and strange bulges had appeared on her skull. The nurse did not diagnose anything wrong with Ava, and released her with a clean bill of health, despite Ava displaying obvious symptoms of hydrocephalus.

Often called “water on the brain”, hydrocephalus is caused by spinal fluid collecting in the skull as a result of it not draining from the brain. It is diagnosed in children under a year old by bulges appearing around the skull, or by the quick increase in the circumference of the head, both of which Ava was showing.

Still concerned for her daughter’s health, Ruth Kiernan brought her daughter to hospital in September that year for another medical check. This time, her skull was measured by medical staff at the facility. However, the measurement was performed incorrectly, and the results it yielded were inaccurate.

Due to the delay in her diagnosis, the pressure of the spinal fluid in the skull resulted in Ava suffering from severe brain damage. Ava is now reliant on her parents for many basic tasks, and his both physically and mentally disabled.

Ruth sought legal counsel on her daughter’s behalf in the hopes of winning some compensation for her daughter’s injuries. She made a hydrocephalus brain injury claim for compensation against the HSE. The claim was contested by the defendant.

Due to the contest in liability, the case was brought to be heard in the High Court by Mr Justice Kevin Cross. The hearing lasted three weeks. After hearing all of the errors made in the diagnosis, the judge ruled in Ava’s favour.

He stated that if there had been the appropriate follow-up examination after the initial nurse visit, or if the measurement of her head in September had been carried out correctly, the hydrocephalus would have been identified and suitably treated. Had it been identified, the judge stated that Ava never would have suffered the brain damage due to the excess of fluid.

The case was adjourned such that a investigation could be launched into Ava’s future medical needs. After the final report is published, the case will return to court such that an appropriate level of compensation can be awarded to the young girl.

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