She was at the centre of an intense legal battle between her parents and two leading medical experts. But last night, after the High Court approved a €500,000 settlement to her family, little Rebecca McGillin was interested in only one thing — the present her mother had promised her.
“She will be getting her present tonight — a Sylvanian Family restaurant — when we get home to Omagh, so I’m delighted to be able to bring that back to her,” an emotional Lisa McGillin said outside court.
Rebecca, originally from Malahide in Co Dublin, but now living in Tyrone, was born in April 2001 with a deformed hand, thin lips, problems with balance and other features of Sodium Valproate Syndrome.
She was described in court as a bright, cheerful, attractive girl whose mental capacity is not affected by her condition. She is of above-average intelligence. “I wouldn’t change her for the world,” her mother added.
Through her father, Barry, the eight year old took a legal action against consultant psychiatrist Professor Patricia Casey and consultant obstetrician Dr Mary Holohan over her disabilities, allegedly caused by prescription drugs taken by Mrs McGillin during pregnancy.
The settlement was without admission of liability by either Prof Casey or Dr Holohan, who had denied all claims against them, including of negligence in their treatment of Mrs McGillin, whose separate action was also settled yesterday. Outside court, an emotional Mrs McGillin said she was “delighted for my daughter and I’m delighted that I am not responsible for what happened to her and that has meant an awful lot to me.
“And that’s what this was about, it was never about money, but obviously it will help to secure her future, and I’m delighted about that.”
The court heard Mrs McGillin had been treated by Prof Casey since 1994 and had been diagnosed with mild bi-polar disorder and depression.
Her medication prior to and for certain periods during her pregnancy included lithium, used as a mood stabiliser, and Epilim, an anti-convulsant primarily used to treat epilepsy but also used in the treatment of depression. The active ingredient in Epilim is sodium valproate.
In proceedings which opened last week, it was alleged that both doctors should have ensured Rebecca’s mother was taken off lithium and Epilim in pregnancy. Mrs McGillin became pregnant in July 2000 after being treated by Dr Holohan for some six months with a view to improving her fertility chances. She was on both drugs prior to pregnancy and also took both at some stages in her pregnancy, the court heard.
In evidence, Mrs McGillin said she went off lithium for most of the first trimester but resumed taking it prior to the end of that 12-week period because she had a relapse of her illness. She also said she ceased taking all drugs, including Epilim, four months into the pregnancy but that claim was disputed.
Approving the settlement of the child’s case yesterday, High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns described it as a “good” settlement and wished the child and her family well into the future.
The court was told it was quite clear that Mrs McGillin was “not to blame” for what had happened to her daughter and the issue was whether the mother’s condition was treated in a reasonable way. A plea by Prof Casey of contributory negligence against Mrs McGillin had been withdrawn at the outset of the case, the judge added.
- Tim Healy and Michael McHale
10 February 2010