A health trust has agreed a multi-million pound damages settlement for a teenage girl left with life-long injuries after a catalogue of errors during her mother’s pregnancy led to her being delivered at just 24 weeks.
The girl, now 13, was given just a 10% chance of survival and spent the first seven weeks of her life on breathing support, needing oxygen for more than 100 days.
She survived, but suffered injuries which will prevent her from ever being able to live an independent life and always in need of support and care.
A legal case, led by medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, has now concluded, resulting in a damages settlement being agreed by The Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust which could value as much as £8m should the girl live to her full life expectancy.
Pregnancy ‘poorly managed’ and mother not consulted over decision to deliver at just 24 weeks
As part of the legal case it was alleged the Trust failed to manage the mother’s pregnancy appropriately, particularly given she was known to suffer from high blood pressure.
It was alleged that had appropriate medication and care been provided, the pregnancy could have been safely managed to at least 28 weeks.
Independent medical experts, consulted as part of the legal case, said that with another crucial month of development, the girl would likely have been born with no long-term health problems.
Instead, she suffered impaired brain growth, chronic lung disease and has Global Development Delay, a condition that has significantly slowed all areas of her development and learning.
The girl has been assessed as currently having the intellectual function of a five-year-old, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and difficulties with her speech and concentration, struggling to form friendships as a result.
She also has little sense of danger or her own modesty, leaving her vulnerable in society and unable to be left unsupervised at any time.
£2m damages paid and girl could receive a further £6m over lifetime
Following approval of the settlement at the High Court, an initial damages payment of £2m has been paid into a trust to be managed by a professional Court of Protection Deputy, alongside the girl’s parents.
Further annual payments will be made each year of her life to cover an ongoing dedicated case manager to oversee the girl’s many support needs.
It will also cover the costs for her to have 24 hour care when she is older, including providing appropriate accommodation for herself and her carer, as she will be unable to live independently.
Should she live into her mid-80s, as expected, the payments will total around £8m.
Birth injuries solicitor Chris Moore says damages reflects ‘lifelong impact of injuries’
Birth injury claims specialist Chris Moore, of Hudgell Solicitors, said the settlement was reflective of the ‘life-long impact’ the injuries will have on the girl’s life.
He said her mother, who was just 17 at the time, was not fully informed of the consequences of the ‘dangerously early’ emergency birth’, which doctors decided was needed due to her continued high blood pressure.
“This was a poorly managed pregnancy with a catalogue of errors from start to finish which have sadly had life-long consequences for my client and her family,” said Mr Moore.
“There was poor management of her blood pressure throughout her pregnancy. Despite her young age, her high blood pressure was known by all caring for her throughout her pregnancy, yet she was not given any medication to control this, despite many high readings, until she was 23 weeks pregnant.
“Then, when the decision was made to carry out the emergency delivery, it was done so in haste, and with no consideration of the family’s wishes. It was a dangerously early and there were other options. Experts said the levels of medication to control her blood pressure could have been trebled.
“Whilst she was informed of the danger posed should her pre-eclampsia worsen, and that both she and her baby could be at risk, she was certainly not told of the alternative options, and the huge potential differences to her baby’s health.
“Babies born at that stage are known to at a high risk of death and development disability and it was the opinion of independent experts consulted as part of this case that this girl was delivered at a time when she had little chance of being born without suffering some form of brain damage.
“Such decisions are not to be made solely by medical professionals and mothers and loved ones should be fully informed and consulted when decisions which could be potentially life-changing for all are being made.
“The reality is that the mother of this girl was not given the option to make an informed decision. She, nor her husband or her parents there at the time, were not fully informed about the possible consequences for the baby girl.
“At the time it was presented to her that delivery was the only option as both she and her baby were in danger. The reality, however, was that she was not in any immediate danger and there were other medication options to try extending the pregnancy.
“It was the opinion of independent experts that had the other option been explored and the mother’s blood pressure levels had been treated with appropriate medication for another four weeks, taking the baby to 28 weeks gestation, the girl was likely to have been born injury free.
“This is the kind of decision which a mother and family should never be denied the opportunity of making.”
Mother ‘devastated’ that daughter was denied chance of being born injury free
The girl’s mother, who had studied to work on airline cabin crew but had to give up her career hopes to care full-time for her daughter, said she felt she had ‘no option’ but to agree to the caesarean section after being rushed from Goodhope Hospital to Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.
She said: “There was no discussion with myself, my husband or my parents as to whether it would be possible to extend the pregnancy further. I didn’t think there was any choice, and if I had been told of the options I would have not have consented to the caesarean section. We were told she was being born then.
“This was my first child and I would have done anything to reduce the risk of injury and allow her to have a normal life. Had the other option been explained to me I would have taken it as it would have made her more likely to be born without development injuries. This option was something I only found out long afterwards though.
“The plan had always been to manage my pregnancy until at least 28 weeks to give my baby the best possible chance. All of a sudden, having failed to properly control my blood pressure the decision was taken to carry out an emergency birth.
“She survived the birth but then we faced the heart-breaking threat of losing her. I can remember being told by doctors that they thought she had a 10% chance. They had put her at that risk and they gave her no chance of being injury free.
“We only started to find out how different things could have been after seeking legal advice. At first I wanted my treatment looking into because I felt I had been so badly cared for during my pregnancy. Then everything started to become apparent as to how the birth could have been later and the difference that would have made.
“As a family we have been devastated by the impact the errors made have had on our lives as a family, and most importantly on the life of our daughter. They have denied her the chance of an independent life.
“It broke me to know that this was something which could have been prevented. I have since had more children, each born at 36 weeks and with no complications despite my high blood pressure, because I was on stronger medication and monitored and treated properly all the way through.
“In some ways the lack of complications in their births have made it harder to accept what happened. It should not have happened and my other children are living proof of that.”
Damages funding carers, new home with annex and lifetime support
The family have already used damages to enlist the support of carers for their daughter, looking after her at the end of school three nights a week, as well as during school holidays.
Longer term, the family has identified a new gated home, with an annexe for the girl to move into as she gets older, giving her some independence whilst her family remain close by.
“We’ve had some very tough years, but as a result of this legal case and the settlement we now feel we can plan forward and we are certainly relieved to know that she’ll always have the support she needs.
“We now have carers who come after school three times a week, and in school holidays, to support us and take some pressure off us as a family. The impact on us all as a family has been huge as our other children have had to accept and understand that although they are younger, most of their parents’ time is spent looking after their sister.
“I have pretty much been alongside her all of my life. Don’t get me wrong, she has a great life because we go out of the way to make it so and to do fun things with her, but it will never be her own life. She’ll always depend on others.
“Thanks to help of Hudgell Solicitors and Chris Moore, who have been superb throughout the case and offered us so much support, we now know that despite always being vulnerable, she will always be protected, supported and cared for. That is very comforting to know.”