Help for helpless Kurtis

'A baby in a growing twisted body'

PHIL KITCHIN
Last updated 05:00 25/04/2011

A mother has won a six-year battle to get ACC to accept that medical error probably caused severe brain damage to her son.

Penny Larkin's son Kurtis, starved of oxygen, was born dead at Hutt Hospital, and had to be resuscitated. Now aged 19, Kurtis weighs just 25 kilograms. He repeatedly suffers seizures. He cannot see, talk, walk, eat or go to the toilet by himself.

"Mentally, he is a baby in a growing twisted body," Mrs Larkin said. "He constantly lives with pain and discomfort."

About three hours before Kurtis was born by emergency caesarean section, Mrs Larkin went into Hutt Hospital after phoning her obstetrician, Howard Clentworth, because her baby was not feeling as active as usual. She was sent home despite her terrible obstetric history and a scan revealing that her unborn son was in trouble. She went home but quickly returned to the hospital. After a second scan a caesarean was decided on, but not done immediately.

For years Mrs Larkin fought ACC for help with the 24-hour care Kurtis requires. Now she has finally won her fight, Mrs Larkin has hit out at ACC's handling of her claim. She said her reviewer was previously an ACC employee, and supporting reports by an expert hired to advise ACC were at odds with reports from four other experts who said delays in the baby's delivery probably changed the course of his life.

"What difference could those two to three hours have made for Kurtis's life?" she said. "Would he have been able to eat or see or walk or talk? Would he be free of seizures and breathing problems? Would he have been slow to learn but otherwise healthy? Anything better would have greatly improved Kurtis's life."

ACC's expert, Digby Ngan Kee, said there was no medical error and that Dr Clentworth's care was of a high standard.

ACC agreed with Dr Ngan Kee, and so did a reviewer from the corporation's "independent" Dispute Resolution Services – who was also a former ACC employee.

Mrs Larkin did not give up her fight and filed a claim in Wellington District Court. But it took another four years and 13 court adjournments before the claim was heard in November before Judge David Ongley.

In a reserved decision, Judge Ongley preferred the opinion of Jenny Westgate, associate professor in obstetrics at Auckland University, who said Dr Kee and Dr Clentworth failed to realise a caesarean immediately after the first scan would have allowed earlier resuscitation and blood transfusions that could have "significantly" improved Kurtis's life.

He quashed ACC's review decision and awarded Kurtis ACC cover for cerebral palsy.

WHAT ACC WILL PROVIDE

For the first time in his life, Kurtis Larkin will be entitled to an array of ACC-funded help, including up to 24-hour care and treatments for which his family will no longer have to fight or pay.

Until now, Kurtis's mother, Penny, has provided most of the care her severely brain-damaged son requires. Apart from less than two hours' help a day, it has been up to his family to feed, dress, toilet, bath and put him to bed. Even then, he needs turning every few hours to prevent bed sores.

Respite care has been provided every second weekend, but otherwise 24-hour care has fallen to her or former husband Steve.

The family have had to wait for, or pay for, an array of supporting equipment and treatment, and for any modifications to their house.

Now that is about to change. ACC claims management general manager Denise Cosgrove said ACC was assessing how best it could help Kurtis with home support, school support, equipment, treatment services, medical supplies and housing and transport modifications.

It is also assessing how much backdated carer or home support has been provided to Kurtis that ACC should have been providing.

- The Dominion Post

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