In September 2011, EJ was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, Burkitt's lymphoma, affecting the top of her spine. She had to have a catheter, known as an Ommaya reservoir, inserted into her brain. This was used to administer chemotherapy through her brain to the cancer in her spine. Importantly, it appeared that no x-ray had been taken after the catheter had been introduced to check that it was in the correct position in her brain.
After the catheter had been inserted, EJ was referred to Hammersmith Hospital for the first cycle of chemotherapy to be administered. During treatment, she started to have problems in that her sight was getting darker and more shadowy. She complained of this, but no concern was raised by doctors and she was discharged in October 2011. After discharge, the problems with her sight did not improve.
In November 2011, EJ was re-admitted to Hammersmith Hospital for the second cycle of chemotherapy. Her sight deteriorated further when this was administered, and again she raised concerns. Eventually, she was told that the doctors did not want to give any more chemotherapy until the position of the catheter had been checked at Charing Cross Hospital where her initial operation had been performed.
Accordingly, an MRI scan of EJ's brain was taken to check the catheter's position. She was told by the neurologist that the catheter was in the wrong position, and needed to be re-positioned. This was done, but unfortunately the damage to her optic nerve was irreversible.
By this time, EJ was completely blind. Tragically, the catheter had been positioned too close to the optic nerve so that when the chemotherapy was administered, it was damaging the optic nerve causing her to lose her sight. The blindness is permanent, and there is no treatment.
At the time we were instructed, the family were in a desperate situation: not only was EJ now completely blind, but she had been the primary carer of the three young children and home, whilst her husband had been the breadwinner. EJ's husband now had to look after his blind wife, the three young children and continue to work, which was impossible. He subsequently had to stop work, which caused huge financial strain. The girls were also devastated by the loss of input from their mother who could no longer tend to their needs, and the loss of the normal relationship that they had enjoyed with her previously. They were all now desperately in need of help.
We pressed very hard to get an early admission of negligence and causation, and for urgently needed funds by way of an interim payment.
Fortunately, five months after our request, the hospital admitted that the catheter had been "malpositioned", which had caused EJ to receive doses of chemotherapy too close to the optic nerve, thereby causing blindness. They also agreed to pay an initial interim payment of compensation in the sum of £100,000 to enable support workers to be introduced for EJ and the girls, psychotherapy for EJ and the family to help them try to adjust to the blindness, and to relocate to a bigger property so there was room for the support workers. A private case manager was also appointed to organise the support workers and house move, and help the family generally.
Judgment was entered for EJ on the basis of the admission, and additional interim payments were made whilst investigations into quantum were done by both parties.
We obtained expert reports in the fields of haematology, neurology, neuro-ophthalmology, psychiatry, accommodation, care, and occupational therapy.
Life expectancy was an issue in the case given that EJ had had an aggressive form of cancer, and this had to be reflected in the quantification of the claim. Fortunately, her prognosis was actually very good as a number of years had passed without recurrence.
The parties had a round table meeting in October 2015, which resulted in settlement shortly thereafter in a capitalized sum of £3.8 million. Payment included a lump sum, yearly payments for care and support for the rest of EJ's life and for the girls until the youngest reached age 16, and psychological input.
At the end of the case EJ said that:
"We had approached another solicitor who turned down our case before speaking to Edwina. Edwina took the case on without hesitation and fought relentlessly for us all of the way. She was always available to help us. She gave me hope and put me on the road to putting my life together again."
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