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Disabled Woman's Fight for Compensation

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3:38pm 6th December 2011
(Updated 3:38pm 6th December 2011)

A Cornish woman facing a lifetime of acute disability due to a medical tragedy during heart surgery when she was a tiny baby today renewed her fight for multi-million-pound compensation.
Grace Mugweni, now 28, of Hyatt, near Saltash, came close to winning her case at London's High Court earlier this year when a top judge ruled that an anaesthetist involved in the August 1993 operation at Guy's Hospital, London, had been negligent.
But Grace and her mother, Susan Mugweni, came away with nothing when Mr Justice Langstaff went on to rule that the medic's fault had not "caused" the acute brain damage which will forever blight her life.
Now, however, the family's lawyers have taken the case to the Court of Appeal, in London, to argue that the judge got it wrong and Grace should be compensated for her pain and suffering and to cover the enormous costs of the lifetime of care she will need.
Grace was 19 weeks old at the time of the ill-fated operation to cure defects in her heart.   It looked as if the open-heart bypass operation had gone well until she suffered a devastating cardiac arrest after her chest was “closed up”.  
Medics managed to re-start her heart, but it later emerged she had suffered a "tension pneumothorax" due to a build-up of air in the space between the layers of tissue surrounding the lung, Grace's barrister, Dr Michael Powers QC, has told the court.
Grace's legal team claims that led to oxygen starvation, causing permanent brain damage and pointed the finger of blame at the anaeshetist, who has since died.
In his February ruling, Mr Justice Langstaff accepted the anaesthetist was "in breach of his duty" in failing to spot signs of the impending medical catastrophe earlier after the "comparatively simple" operation.
However, dismissing Grace's claim, he said that error would have contributed only about three minutes to the period during which the oxygen to her brain was restricted.
The sequence of events put forward by Grace's lawyers was "quite unlikely" and theories advanced by her medical experts on what caused her brain damage "remained entirely theoretical and undemonstrated", he ruled.
Instead the judge accepted NHS London's plea that even "apparently uneventful" cardiac bypass surgery carries "an appreciable risk" of causing brain damage and that the anaesthetist's mistake was not the cause of Grace's injuries.
Today, Dr Powers urged Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Hughes and Lord Justice Davis to reverse that decision.  He argued the only rational conclusion on the evidence was that the anaesthetist's negligence "materially contributed" to Grace's brain damage.
The court heard Grace suffers from severe epilepsy, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties and is "dependent in every way" on her mother's care.
The Appeal Court hearing is set to last two days and the judge sare expected to reserve their decision on Grace's appeal until a later date.

3:38pm 6th December 2011

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