Young meningitis victim awarded £2.5 million for error by Folkestone GP

15 year old Sebastian McDonnell has won his claim for compensation against his former GP, Dr Pia Holwerda. His solicitor, Darren Tamplin, partner at Fairweathers solicitors, confirmed that his client’s case has settled for the sum of £2.58 million.

Sebastian, known as Seb, fell ill on Christmas Day 1997 when he was only 4 years old. His GP was called and made two home visits, one at about 5 pm and on the second occasion at around 9 pm. On neither occasion did the doctor recognise the severity of his symptoms which included aches all over his body, a high temperature, vomiting and dislike of bright light. Nor did she think that Seb was sufficiently unwell to send him to hospital for further investigations despite, on her second visit, Seb having a rash on his back, being drowsy and unable to speak clearly.

Following the doctor’s second visit Seb’s condition deteriorated further and at about 1 am on Boxing Day he suffered a fit. An ambulance was called and he was taken to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. Seb was quickly diagnosed as suffering meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia. Life saving antibiotics were given and local doctors contacted specialists at Guy’s Hospital in London. An expert team was sent from Guy’s by ambulance to the William Harvey to transfer Seb to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Guy’s.

For days it was touch and go as to whether Seb would survive. He remained in intensive care for one month.

He suffered severe cardio-respiratory failure, kidney failure and severe damage to the tissue on the lower part of both legs and the tips of several fingers.

His right leg was amputated through the knee and large amounts of damaged flesh were surgically removed from his left leg.

He lost the tips of three fingers.

Seb remained at Guy’s Hospital until June 1998 when he was finally discharged back to his home in Folkestone.

In addition to the injuries to his legs and hands Seb suffered a brain injury which has affected his memory and left him with epilepsy and learning difficulties.

Following his discharge from hospital, lengthy and difficult rehabilitation continued including providing him with a prosthetic right leg and a brace for his much weakened left leg.

Despite his doctors’ best efforts and hopes, as he grew, his left leg did not develop and strengthen sufficiently to remain viable and withstand his weight. Ultimately, the decision had to be taken that this leg should be amputated as well. This procedure was carried out in February 2006.

At a trial in the High Court in London in April 2005 to decide whether Dr Holwerda had failed in her duty towards Seb, the Honourable Mr Justice Newman found that the examination at her second visit was inadequate and that she failed to look for a rash over the whole of his body. The Judge found that she failed to ask about Seb’s sensitivity to light, the frequency of his vomiting and his general condition. The Judge criticised Dr Holwerda for not referring Seb to hospital and gave his judgement that had she done so Seb would have received treatment between 10.30 and 11 pm rather than as he did do approximately 4 hours later.

Dr Holwerda continues to work as a GP in Folkestone.

Following the initial trial a wide array of medical experts assessed Seb in order to report the extent that his injuries would have been avoided if he had been sent to hospital at the time of Dr Holwerda’s second visit. Further experts were required to assess Seb’s needs in terms of suitable accommodation, care, prostheses, aids, equipment and therapy for the remainder of his life.

A final trial of Seb’s case to decide how much compensation he should receive was scheduled for December of this year. At a settlement meeting in October, Seb’s lawyers and those acting for Dr Holwerda reached an agreement as to the level of compensation that Seb should receive. It was decided that the appropriate level in his case was £2.58 million. In order to protect the interests of children, all settlements reached on behalf of minors must be approved by a Judge. On 6 November the Honourable Mr Justice Jack approved the settlement reached on Seb’s behalf and wished both him and his mother, Christina, well for the future now that his claim is concluded.

To protect Seb’s financial interests, for the remainder of his life a specialist solicitor has been appointed his Receiver. He will control Seb’s financial affairs under the supervision of the Court of Protection ensuring that all money spent is only done so in Seb’s best interests.

Seb who is now 15 years old and attends Pent Valley School is looking forward to moving to a new home that is specifically adapted to his needs and also to driving his mum to distraction with the full drum kit that he has wanted for so long!

Seb’s mum, Christina, said “I am so happy that Seb’s case has settled. For such a long time we have had the uncertainty of not knowing whether we would be successful and whether we would win enough money to last Seb for the rest of his life. We can now look to the future rather than looking back. The money means we can now move to a suitable home and pay for all of the specialist equipment that Seb needs.”