Caroline Cunningham, a Donegal woman who suffered with life-threatening sepsis after being sent home from Letterkenny University Hospital after delivering her first child, has settled her sepsis compensation claim with the Health Service Executive.
Ms Cunningham has decided to speak out in the hope she can warn other women about the risks of infection after undergoing a caesarean section. She was treated in hospital for 39 days after developing life-threatening sepsis. and then fought a four-year legal battle after the HSE denied any negligence.
A native of Strabrinna in Kilcar, ms Cunningham attended Letterkenny University Hospital in March 2016 to deliver her first child Emma. They were allowed to return home April 3, 2016 however, two days later Caroline began to feel ill and was taken to hospital by ambulance. Here it was discovered that she was suffering from severe pain and her C-section scar was red and inflamed. Due to this severe and deep-seated infection she ended up spending a further 39 days in hospital. During this time she was transferred to the intensive care unit of the hospital when her condition had deteriorated and it became life-threatening sepsis. Caroline underwent numerous surgeries to drain her wound.
Following hearing an expert opinion from a microbiologist, Ms Cunningham began legal proceedings in 2018 against Letterkenny University Hospital through her Solicitor, Jolene McElhinney of McElhinney & Associates Solicitors, Stranorlar. The microbiologist argued that Letterkenny University Hospital had behaved negligently on this occasion due to their failure to administer antibiotics at the time of C-section and for thereafter not identifying the appropriate antibiotics to stop the infection from spreading further.
Medical experts claimed that the antibiotics administered by Letterkenny Hospital not correct given the circumstances and could never have stopped the infection form getting worse and spreading. Due to this the patient’s condition developed into severe sepsis and she remained in hospital. During this time her new daughter who was at home being cared for by her husband and other relations.
Ms Cunningham also developed further complication with her lungs and suffered with pneumonia, empyema infection and bilateral plural effusions. Medical testimony linked the respiratory complications directly to the sepsis which she had developed. Additionally she had to undergo a number of plural taps which is a very painful treatment to remove fluid from her lungs. Ms Cunningham describes the fluid in her lungs as a feeling of a huge weight on her chest.
As her recovery progressed, Caroline was almost breathless as a result of the fluid on her lungs and often had difficulty sleeping at night. She even slept in an armchair due to the weight of the fluid on her chest.
The HSE admitted liability in December 2020 and was settled for an undisclosed amount before it went to court.
Ms Cunningham said: “This approach was a continuation of the poor treatment I received at Letterkenny Hospital. I hope that by going public about my case, other ladies who undergo a caesarean section will be fully aware of the risks of infection and know the infection can progress quickly and dangerously and that all women should be alert to the signs and symptoms.”