Boy brain-damaged in transfusion error

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A BABY was left severely brain-damaged after being given the wrong blood in a transfusion because of a mix-up over surnames, a court heard yesterday.

James Green needed the transfusion because he fell seriously ill with jaundice when he was four days old but he was given blood intended for another newborn baby with the same name. Instead of O-positive, the commonest type, he received the rarer A-negative which triggered a reaction causing convulsions and heart failure.

The "mismatch" occurred at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex in March 1992. James, now aged six, cannot walk, stand without support, talk or do anything for himself.

All hospitals were told to review their procedures for handling blood earlier this year after a study by the Serious Hazards of Transfusion (Shot) group revealed 169 cases in which errors had been made, putting patients at risk.

In 12 cases patients died, and in a further 39 they suffered serious injury requiring treatment in intensive care or dialysis for kidney failure. Blood for transfusions has to be carefully matched against the blood group and tissue type of the patient before being given to avoid triggering a serious reaction.

James's parents, Dudley and Patricia Green, are seeking substantial damages from North Essex Health Authority on behalf of their son, at the High Court in London. The health authority has admitted liability and agreed many of the sums claimed, but there is still a dispute over the extent of James's future care needs.

The family's counsel, Robert Owen QC, told Mr Justice Thomas: "He requires care in every aspect of his life, but he is a very lively, intelligent, good-humoured and happy child against all adversities."

Mr Green, a policeman, and his wife, of Stanbourne, Essex also have a five-year-old daughter, Felicity, and an 18-month-old son, William.

Mrs Green, 43, wept in the witness box as she described the family's "hand-to-mouth" existence. "We are just trying to survive and have been for nearly seven years," she said.

She told the court that James was at boarding school during the week but looked forward to coming home at weekends. It was expected that he would live with his parents for the rest of his life.

She said the family wanted to care for him at home. "We want him safe and want to be with him. I particularly feel responsible for what happened in the first place, and feel I have to be protective," she said.

About 3 million blood transfusions are carried out each year, the vast majority without problems, but when problems do occur they tend to follow a pattern. The findings of the first annual report by Shot, published earlier this year, said the commonest error, accounting for almost half the cases, was a mix-up in which blood intended for one patient was given to another.

The group was set up independently of the National Blood Service to monitor the safety of blood transfusion.

The hearing, set to last three days, continues.