"Our team will support you as you regain
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When a child falls ill, the reassurance and expertise of the medical profession is the one thing that parents should be able to rely on to help get them through. But what happens when you believe the very people who should be there to help, have let you down. Who do you turn to for support?
“When Paul became ill, we placed all our faith in the doctors, because that’s what you do. But when you take that away, when the medical profession becomes part of the problem, it is truly terrifying because you just don’t know where to turn. That’s when you really need someone to support you.”
Jane O’Keefe’s words will strike a chord with any parent, even those who have never had to take their new born child to hospital with breathing problems and a dangerously high temperature. This is the situation that Jane faced some 15 weeks after her son Paul was born without incident at her local hospital.
“Everything about Paul’s birth was routine,” explains Jane and husband Andy. “His eight week check was absolutely fine, but then at 15 weeks Paul became unwell.”
Like any concerned mum, Jane sought medical help - in this case her Primary Care out of hours GP service where a diagnosis of upper respiratory tract infection was made. As a result, antibiotics were prescribed, together with Paracetamol and linctus. Despite these being administered, Paul’s condition appeared to
deteriorate and later that day Jane took him to the Accident & Emergency Department where his increasing symptoms led to a diagnosis of viral upper respiratory tract infection. Paul was discharged from hospital on the same day with Jane being advised to administer Calpol every 4 – 6 hours.
“The next day, Paul still wasn’t well so we took him to the GP who prescribed Ibuprofen. At this stage we were getting more concerned, as despite us taking him to see three doctors, Paul appeared to be getting worse,”
states Jane, who at this stage, could not have been prepared for the events that were to transpire over the coming days.
Later that day, Jane took Paul back to A&E where her growing fears were realised as a non-blanching rash was noted, with Paul being described as ‘alert but very irritable and not focusing’. A lumbar puncture then confirmed his parents’ worst fears. Paul was diagnosed with meningitis.
“They told us Paul had meningococcal septicaemia with meningitis. Just hearing that was chilling. You have all these terrible thoughts of what is going to happen.”
Following his diagnosis, Paul remained in hospital for 29 days. During that time his condition deteriorated requiring numerous trips to the operating theatre for venous lines to be inserted into his tiny frame.
Thankfully Paul survived. However the nightmare for the youngster and his family had only just begun as the effects of his condition, and in particular its delayed diagnosis and subsequent treatment, became ever more apparent.
“As a result of what happened to him, Paul’s life has changed irrevocably. He has epilepsy that has to be controlled with medication, learning difficulties that require a Statement of SEN and severely restricted vision in his left eye. He also requires a wheelchair when going more than just a few hundred metres. These problems, along with a number of other medical conditions including mental health issues, will remain with him for the rest of his life. It is so unfair.”
This sense of injustice was fuelled by the fact they felt somehow responsible, that, as parents they should have done more to prevent what happened to their son. It is a common feeling according to the expert who was to play an ever increasing role in the lives of the O’Keefe family from this point.
“Many of the parents we work with who have gone through similar distressing experiences feel a tremendous sense of guilt - that somehow they are to blame,” explains Clare Langford a solicitor specialising in medical injury cases.
“Of course this is not the case, and we work hard with parents to try and get to the root cause of the problem in order to help them through these devastating feelings.”
Clare Langford got to know the O’Keefe family after Jane and Andy decided to seek justice for their son.
“I didn’t know where to turn. All my trust in everything and everyone had gone, and even though as a family we were strong, we needed support from outside to help us answer all the questions we had about Paul and the treatment he had received.”
Where the family turned was to Clare and her team at Head Injury UK.
“We have always been driven by the desire to help each individual or family achieve what they want out of their particular circumstances,” states Clare who has been working in this specialised area for over 10 years. "Sometimes people are seeking financial compensation, but more often that not, they simply want to achieve a sense for justice for themselves or for their loved ones who have gone through a traumatic experience.
For the O’Keefe family, it was the desire to achieve a positive outcome for their son.
“We want to secure a future for Paul. Clare and her team are helping us achieve that. Of course, putting things in place for Paul’s future will require money, his needs are extremely complex and meeting his requirements will only increase as he gets older. But over and above that, we also wanted acknowledgement of what happened, to show that this could, and should have been prevented. If we achieve this then hopefully we can move on as a family knowing that it is less likely to ever happen again.”
Though the matter is proceeding, there is perhaps some light at the end of the tunnel for the O’Keefe family.
With Clare’s help, liability for the events has been admitted in full, and a payment of £230,000 has been secured to support Paul’s primary needs through an intensive and ongoing programme of occupational therapy, physiotherapy and neuro-psychological treatment. A forthcoming court hearing will seek a £1.5million interim payment to enable the family to purchase and adapt a house suitable for Paul’s needs, whilst future payments including compensation for what Paul and his family have suffered, are estimated to be in the region of £7million.
“It may seem a flippant thing to say, but this is not about the money. The most important part in all of this is our son and what has happened to him,” concludes Jane O’Keefe.
“We can’t turn back the clock, but we can do our utmost to make the rest of Paul’s life as comfortable, rewarding and fulfilling as possible. Clare has been incredible in helping us achieve that. If through her support we can prevent this type of tragedy happening to another family, then perhaps something positive will have come out of it.”
If you are concerned that your own or a loved one’s medical treatment was similarly negligent and want to discuss it with Clare or another member of the Head Injury UK team, please call on 0800 073 0988 or send an email.
We know that we have been extremely fortunate to have had such a consummate PI lawyer in Andy acting on our behalf but we have also been blessed by having had his support, trust, friendship and loyalty throughout. We cannot ever thank him enough.
The compensation Nicola has received has helped her move from a tiny council flat into a massive bungalow which has been specifically adapted. It has enabled her to have a better life.
If it was not for the help of my solicitor I don't know where I would have been today. He provided a great deal of emotional support and secured compensation at various stages from the insurance company to fund my treatment and allow me to live. He was there from start to finish.
Higgs & Sons acted for us for 5 years until our daughters claim for personal injuries was finally settled. Ian remains a trustee of our daughters trust fund and we now look upon him as a friend.