Baby girl given food laced with poison died 'accidentally'
The parents of a baby girl poisoned by her food told yesterday how they have finally been given answers about her death after a seven-year wait.
Elaine Barrett was left with irreparable brain damage when a medical company accidentally put more than 120 times the level of prescribed magnesium in her food supplement. The little girl -- who was born prematurely -- was less than six weeks old when she was given the feed manufactured by B Braun Medical Ltd.
The Dublin-based company produces and supplies patient-specific food formulas for sick adults and babies. Coroner Dr Ciaran McLaughlin said the error occurred after the system used to manufacture the feeds froze while making an adult prescription. The inquest heard that the line used to manufacture Elaine's feed was not properly cleaned following the breakdown and magnesium levels 124 times above normal went in to her Total Parental Nutrition (TPN) feed.
After digesting the food supplement at Galway University Hospital (GUH) on May 25, 2003, Elaine suffered "irreversible brain damage".
The magnesium blocked her brain's drainage system, which led to an accumulation of fluid, leaving her only with the capacity to maintain a heartbeat and respiration.
She lived for five years with her parents -- Frank and Eileen Barrett, of Cloonacauneen, Co Galway -- and was in and out of hospital on numerous occasions before she developed bronchial pneumonia and died on October 16, 2008. Medical staff said Elaine would not have survived for so long had it not been for the care and love given to her by her parents.
After hearing two days of evidence at Galway's Coroner's Court, Dr McLaughlin said the cause of death of the five-year-old was a "medical accident".
He said Elaine died from bronchial pneumonia due to a brain injury caused by the excessive levels of magnesium.
Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Barrett said that all her family wanted to know was how and why Elaine's ordeal happened.
"We will never get justice for our daughter Elaine -- but this inquest gives us the answers we have been trying to get for the last seven years," she said.
With her husband standing by her side, Mrs Barrett added: "It took Elaine's death and a coroner's inquest for us to be told what happened.
"We hope that no other family will ever have to experience what we have gone through -- being left in the dark about the circumstances that led to our beautiful daughter, Elaine, being given 124 times the recommended dose of magnesium with devastating consequences."
She said "the tragedy changed our lives forever" and that they only learned yesterday that both B Braun Medical Ltd and the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) -- the body that licences medicines -- had the answers to their questions.
Mrs Barrett said they "were forced to embark on expensive litigation in an attempt to get to the truth of the matter".
She said her family accepted the apology from the managing director of B Braun, Paul Mullally, was sincere, but felt "it is too little, too late".
The coroner praised the vigilance of the medical staff treating Elaine at GUH and said had it not been for them, "we would never know what had happened".
The IMB's director of compliance, John Lynch, gave evidence of the subsequent investigation into B Braun's manufacture of the botched TPN.
The inquest heard that zinc deposits 80 times the intended quantity also went into Elaine's feed but it was the magnesium that caused the brain damage. There had also been a changeover of personnel between the manufacture of the adult prescription and Elaine's feed. Dr McLaughlin said they did not know why the line had not been primed before making Elaine's feed. New systems have since been put in place at the medical company.
He recommended the IMB contact an injured party's family when someone has been made unwell by a product licensed by the authority.
When passing his verdict, the coroner said premature babies were born all the time and it was important that a fail-proof system was in place to ensure this did not happen again.
A civil action has been agreed between the family and the medical company in recent weeks, but is still waiting to be finalised by the High Court.