'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'

A Donegal woman who developed life-threatening sepsis after being discharged from Letterkenny University Hospital after having her first child has settled her claim against the HSE.

Caroline Cunningham was forced to spend 39 days in hospital after developing life-threatening sepsis and then fought a four-year legal battle after the HSE denied any negligence.

But now she has decided to speak out in the hope she can warn other women about the risks of infection after undergoing a caesarean section.

Caroline, from Strabrinna in Kilcar, attended Letterkenny University Hospital in March 2016 to deliver her first child Emma.

Caroline and her new-born baby daughter Emma were discharged from hospital on April 3rd, 2016.

However, just two days later, Caroline became acutely unwell and was rushed back to the hospital by ambulance.

She was suffering from severe pain and her C-section scar was red and inflamed.

The first-time mum had developed a very severe and deep-seated wound infection and spent a total of 39 days in hospital.

She was even transferred to the intensive care unit of the hospital as her condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she developed life-threatening sepsis.

Caroline underwent numerous surgeries to drain her wound.

Caroline issued proceedings in 2018 against Letterkenny University Hospital through her Solicitor, Jolene McElhinney of McElhinney & Associates Solicitors, Stranorlar, having received expert opinion from a microbiologist.

The microbiologist claimed that Letterkenny University Hospital was negligent in her care due to their failure to give antibiotics at the time of C-section and for thereafter, failing to identify the correct antibiotics to stop the infection in its tracks.

For days Letterkenny University Hospital tried numerous antibiotics to try and stop the infection.

Caroline’s experts claimed that the antibiotics chosen by Letterkenny Hospital were absolutely incorrect in the circumstances and could never have stopped the infection in its tracks.

This delay meant that Caroline’s condition developed into severe sepsis and she remained in hospital without her new daughter who was at home being cared for by her husband and other family members.

Caroline’s severe sepsis led to further complication with her lungs. She developed pneumonia, empyema infection and bilateral plural effusions.

The experts instructed in Caroline’s case were able to connect her respiratory complications directly to the sepsis which she had developed.

She had to undergo numerous plural taps which is an extremely painful procedure to remove fluid from her lungs.

Caroline describes the fluid in her lungs as a feeling of a huge weight on her chest.

While she continued to recover from her sepsis, Caroline was completely breathless due to the fluid on her lungs and often could not sleep at night and had to sleep in an armchair due to the weight of the fluid on her chest.

The HSE fully defended Caroline’s claim right up until December 2020 when they finally admitted liability.

Caroline’s case was listed to be heard, as one of the first remote hearings in the country on Tuesday the 9th of March.

However, before the case was due to be heard, the HSE settled Caroline’s claim for an undisclosed sum.

Caroline says she feels very let down by the care and treatment she received at Letterkenny Hospital, and claimed this was compounded by the HSE’s full defence of the case right up until the last few weeks.

She 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,” she said.

Caroline extended her deep gratitude to her legal team, Jolene McElhinney of McElhinney & Associates Solicitors, Stranorlar, Gabriel Gavigan Senior Counsel and Olwyn McWeeney, Junior Counsel, for their huge efforts to get justice for her in this case.